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Paul Bremer Holds a Press Conference

Aired August 23, 2003 - 08:32   ET


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're going to go to Iraq, where Paul Bremmer is having a live press conference.
L. PAUL BREMER, U.S./IRAQ RECONSTRUCTION ADMINISTRATOR: This week, I mourn the death of my friend and colleague, Sergio Vieira de Mello. This week I mourn the deaths of the other 22 people murdered when terrorists bombed the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad. This week I mourn the deaths of all those murdered in the effort to prevent recovery and progress in Iraq.

But let me say this. Those yearning for the return of Baathism will be disappointed and those seeking the imposition of some fresh tyranny will fail. They may pull off an operation or two, or maybe 10, but they will fail.

As President Bush said today, in their malcontent and in their malicious view of the world, no one is innocent. There is no denying that to all appearances the week that began with the bombing of the oil pipeline and ended with the bombing of the U.N. headquarters was a grim one. But beneath the surface was a swelling tide of good news.

In this past week, Iraqis working for the City of Baghdad repaired the damage from the attack on the water main in less than 24 hours. Repairs had been expected to take days.

This past week, work was completed on the rehabilitation of the Baghdad electrical centers at Al-Hark and Rusefa (ph). This past week, work continued on a $5 million restoration at Rustameya's South Sewage Treatment Plant. This past week, work continued in Kirkuk on the rehabilitation of four public health clinics serving nearly 95,000 people.

This past week, work continued on a project to bring adequate irrigation to 35,000 farmers in Waset Province (ph). The same project is bringing adequate drinking water to 3,000 residents of Abdallah Village (ph).

And this past week, the coalition captured Chemical Ali and on the day of the bombing, one of Saddam's vice presidents. We have now captured of killed 39 of the 55 most wanted individuals.

These are specific examples from a vast array of positive developments every day all over Iraq. Throughout Iraq, 1,000 primary schools will be rehabilitated by the coalition in time for the opening of the school year. As those schools open, the coalition will distribute five million new math and science textbooks. Scores of projects like these are not just continuing, they are accelerating across the country.

Let there be no doubt, the coalition is working full-time with the Iraqi people to reconstruct Iraq and to bring a better, more hopeful life to all Iraqis.

Thank you.

I'd be glad to take your questions.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Bose Deragahi (ph), CBC.

You know, in the past week I've spoken to some members of the Iraqi Governing Council and they said that they were critical of the coalition's efforts to provide security, specifically with regard to the borders and safeguarding Iraq's borders. And they were saying that they had warned the coalition provisional authority about the safeguarding of the borders.

Could you comment on that?

BREMER: We agree that the borders to Iraq are difficult to guard. That is a, shall we say, a topographical fact of life. If you look at the country, we have a lot of desert in the south and southwest, marshes in the southeast and a lot of mountains and deserts elsewhere. When the coalition arrived, there were no posts on any of the borders. We today have more than 2,500 border police on duty and plans to expand that to 25,000 border police over the course of the next year.

We clearly would like to have better control over our borders. One of the areas where we will probably find use for the Iraqi civil defense force that we are in the process of raising now is in helping us look at and guard the borders to the country.

So we agree that there is a problem and we are addressing it.

In the back. Yes, you?

QUESTION: Yes, Jose Buregard (ph) from the Spanish News Agency.

I was wondering if you could comment on the accusations by Israel that Syria is involved in the bombing of -- the truck came from Syria that ended up in the U.N. headquarters? And could you comment on any security or intelligence relations between Israel and the U.S. in Iraq?

Thank you.

BREMER: I saw a press report about the point you make. The investigation is really in its early phases now. We're only several days after the attack. And my experience in working on terrorism incidents is that it very often takes time, sometimes weeks, sometimes even longer, to know exactly what happened. And I think it's a bit early to speculate on the details involved in this attack. So I wouldn't comment on that or other reports about the attack. I would only say this. The Iraqi police are leading a very vigorous investigation into this incident. I believe the chief of police addressed you or some of you, anyway, at a press conference on Thursday on the status of the investigation. That investigation goes on. The coalition is offering all possible assistance to help. I won't comment on any matters involving intelligence at this point.

I would say this, again, from my experience in counter-terrorism, that there are two essential elements to a good counter-terrorist policy. Good intelligence is at the heart of it, and that is extremely important. And then you must be willing to go on the offensive against the terrorists so that you kill them before they kill you. But I'm not going to get into how we are dealing with intelligence matters at this time.

Yes, ma'am?

QUESTION: Carol Williams with the "Los Angeles Times."

This morning the Iraqi-American Chamber of Commerce meeting, a number of the Iraqi businesspeople who were trying to attend that session here were prevented because of the excessive security or the extensive security around the facility.

Are you in a position where you have to deploy so many resources to guard the American and coalition facilities that it's slowing the process of restoring a normal economy and getting business kick started, as the conference was supposed to?

BREMER: I am not familiar with the particular incident you're talking about. Obviously we in, we keep our security procedures under constant review and take what we believe to be appropriate measures. But the general answer is no, we have, as I suggested in my opening comment, on any given day literally hundreds of reconstruction projects all around this country going forward. We have schools, hospitals, all 240 hospitals are now operating, 90 percent of the health clinics in this country are operating. That's due to reconstruction efforts by coalition, by the coalition, by its civil affairs people, by our AID contractors, by NGOs we're working with and by U.N. specialized agencies.

There's been no slow down in the pace of those projects that are going forward. We have by now completed more than 2,000 projects here in the last few months and we will continue to do that. It will not slow us down.

I don't know, I can't answer the specific question about this one conference. It's regrettable if the conference couldn't go forward. But it certainly isn't going to slow down our reconstruction efforts.

Yes, ma'am?

QUESTION: Gina Wilkinson, Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

A few days ago, Ahmed Chalabi of the Iraqi Governing Council said that the IGC had received information on the 14th of August that something like a truck bomb attack was planned against a soft target such as the United Nations. He said that information was passed on to U.S. authorities but he didn't know whether it was passed on to the U.N. U.N. sources I've spoken to have suggested that there was no prior warning about this attack.

Can you say whether this information was passed on and, if not, why not?

BREMER: Well, I can say it was not passed on and the INC has issued a statement correcting that statement. I can't say why not. You'd have to ask the IGC why not. It was not passed onto us.

QUESTION: Anne Garrols (ph), National Public Radio.

There were reports earlier this week and comments made by the Governor Council that there was sort of mutual frustration on your side and their side at lack of progress. There ended up being a certain amount of finger pointing.

Can you say if you are frustrated with the lack of actions by the Governing Council and what measures you would like to take, if so?

BREMER: I try very hard not to finger point, except at press conference, Ms. Garrols.

No, I think that the Governing Council and we agree that there is a, it is important to accelerate the Iraqi involvement in the reconstruction of Iraq and in particular in the security procedures being taken for Iraq. Today, there are more than 50,000 Iraqis already serving in security areas in the defense of Iraq, in the Iraqi police, the border guards that I mentioned earlier, in the facilities protection service, which has been set up to protect fixed sites, and in the new Iraqi Army, as well as the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, which I mentioned earlier.

I believe that the Governing Council has made very clear in the statement they issued on Wednesday that they encourage Iraqis to take part in these various processes and encourage Iraqis to step up and become part of the security forces defending their country against terrorists and Saddamists.

They have also made clear that they share our frustrations over the difficulty of restoring essential services to prewar levels. I've spoken frequently in this hall before about the difficulty of restoring power to prewar levels, which is really, in many ways, the key essential service. We have a plan to restore power to prewar levels by the end of September and we believe we can do that, assuming we do not have more major acts of sabotage.

But the sabotage by the ex-regime extremists continues. We had attacks on some of our power lines again last night. And these are people who are basically attacking the Iraqi people when they do this. They are hurting the Iraqi people. When we have attacks on things like the pipeline, as we had a week ago, and it costs the Iraqi people $7 million a day, those are attacks which are hurting the Iraqi people.

So it's important and the Governing Council pointed this out in its statement, it's important for the Iraqi people to join with us in this fight to regain security and to reconstruct the country. And I think we all feel the frustration that as we move forward, the saboteurs are continuing to try to undercut.

They won't succeed. As I said earlier, it hasn't stopped literally thousands of projects from going forward all across the country and it won't stop them.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: If I could just ask, the question was directed more at the Governing Council's failure to take action and begin to take over responsibility for issues. And could you comment on that? And why they are not doing more and what you would like them to do.

BREMER: Sure. I think it's not correct to say they're not acting. Let's review a little history here. The Governing Council was convened on July 13th. On July 14th, at their very first meeting, they took two important steps. They established a commission to examine how they could best set up a tribunal to try the war criminals or crimes against humanity culprits who are currently in custody or maybe will come in custody. They established, on a more symbolic basis, August 9 as a new holiday, a national holiday, the Day of Liberation, and they abolished the Saddam inspired holidays.

Since then, they have set up committees to examine economics, to examine the de-Baathification program, to look into a variety of other economic issues. They have appointed a preparatory commission to call the constitutional convention, which had its first meetings on Monday and Tuesday last week. And that commission has been given a very short deadline to report back to them by September 15.

They have announced the, for the first time in a decade, that the air space over Iraq is now open to international flights for the first time in 12 years. They have announced the intention to open the Basra airport and so forth.

Now, so I think it's -- and they're working hard. I mean I spent two hours with them this morning. They are working hard considering difficult questions that lie before them and before the Iraqi people.

They are, they have been, I think, helpfully active this week in getting before you, the press, and talking. Three of them accompanied me to the U.N. site and issued statements on Tuesday night. The Council itself issued a statement on Wednesday and every day since then a small group from the Council has gone down to the U.N. site to see the progress there.

I think that's important. I think it is very important for the Council to get out and talk to the Iraqi people and to move around the country and they are doing that now.

Yes, sir? I'll come to you next.

Yes, please?

QUESTION: Rashad from Kyoto News of Japan.

BREMER: Yes, sir?

QUESTION: While the Governing Council is the natural political ally in toppling the regime, they seem not to be involved in military operations. Why is that?

BREMER: Yes, well, the security of Iraq remains the primary responsibility of the coalition and therefore of the coalition forces. However, as I said in answer to an earlier question, we have encouraged and the Governing Council has encouraged Iraqis to play a broader role in security through the various institutions I mentioned, the new Iraqi Army, the Civil Defense Corps, the police, the border police and the facilities protective service. There are more than 50,000 of them already doing that now.

Yes, ma'am?

QUESTION: Cil Alia (ph).

Two questions.

BREMER: You always have two.



BREMER: Well, if the -- did the English speakers have mikes or do I have to repeat the questions? You have mikes. OK.

If the implication of the first question is that the united, that in some fashion the coalition was involved in the bombing, the answer is it's utter nonsense. It was done by terrorists. It's part of a global war on terrorism which was declared on the United States September 11 two years ago. And it is now unfortunately the case that Iraq has become one of the fields of battle in this global war.

On the question of housing, I don't have in front of me all of the lists of projects we've done in the south. But there have been scores of them. So I don't, I can't answer the question whether we have done programs in housing. But we know that there is a major problem of housing in this country. Almost and housing was built anywhere, and particularly in the south, since the Gulf War. And I have a group now studying the question of what we can do to make available housing and possibly to sell government housing to the people who are living in that housing as a way to give people a stake in the economy.

That, of course, will not provide new housing and we are also looking at the question of new housing. But I don't simply have the facts at my hands about housing in the south.

Yes, ma'am?


BREMER: I'm not, I'm just not familiar with the case of suicide that you're talking about and I -- are you talking about -- I don't know what inhumane treatment you're talking about. I'm sorry. I just didn't understand the context. Are you talking about people who are prisoners?


BREMER: Well, again, I just don't know anything about the suicide question.

We are in full compliance with our obligations under the various Geneva and Hague Conventions concerning the detainees. We are in the process of upgrading the facilities in which the criminal detainees are held and moving them as we, as fast as we can out of tents and into hard, that is to say, into buildings out of tents.

We have, are providing now access for family members to criminal detainees and also lawyers. So I -- and, again, I just don't know anything about the suicide, so I can't comment on that part of the question.

Yes, in the back?

QUESTION: Sir, talk in Washington and New York is now focusing on getting a larger international coalition in here. And I'm wondering if you could address two issues. How many more troops do you think would be useful here? And what role could the U.N. or other international folks play in the CPA? Is there any opportunity for them to take a larger leadership role there? I think it's the carrot that many other countries would be looking for, to be able to have more decision-making power.

BREMER: Well, I don't, as you regulars know, I don't play the numbers game on troops. That really is not my area. That's something for the military. I noticed that General Abizaid in his press conference on Thursday said that he felt he had enough troops here and the question in New York is not so much the number of troops, it's whether or not it would be useful to have troops from some other countries join the 30 countries which already have troops on the ground. There are 30 countries already with troops on the ground here now.

And I think that Secretary of State Powell has made clear that it's worth looking at the question of whether an additional U.N. resolution might make that more probable. And I think those negotiations are rather tactical and going on in New York. So I really wouldn't have much light to shed on the exact state of play, other than just to repeat what the secretary of state has said.

On the role of the U.N. and others in the CPA, I have on my staff already citizens from 25 different countries in the CPA. I said already we have soldiers from 30 countries on the ground. I have citizens from 25 countries already serving on the CPA staff and we have 37 countries which have pledged to make contributions to Iraq's reconstruction, its economic reconstruction.

So this is already a rather substantial international operation, as it is. That's not to say we wouldn't welcome more nations taking part. We would. But I think it's important to remember that this is...

VAUSE: We've been listening to the U.S. administrator there in Baghdad, Paul Bremer, taking questions from reporters and commenting on a number of issues. What was notable about the press conference, he did say that all 240 hospitals in Iraq are now operational, as well as 90 percent of the health clinics. He didn't give any indication of what standard they're at.

He also talked about the Governing Council, trying to get Iraqis back on the job and the importance of having Iraqis work with the coalition. There are 50,000 Iraqis now working in the army, the police force, as well as border guards and also security guards. An interesting point, he did say the Governing Council has now opened up international air space over Iraq, the first time in 12 years.

A wide number of questions there also concerning the issue of housing down in Basra, saying that basically no housing has been built since the end of the Gulf War. He said that the Governing Council has been busy with the process of de-Baathification, the economy and also a construction committee has been set up. A very positive spin on a number of things. Also taking time out to remember the U.N. staff who died in the explosion.

We will take a short break now, but when we come back, there will be more news as CNN SATURDAY MORNING continues.


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