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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Bremer Discusses Possible Delay of Transition of Power in Iraq

Aired February 19, 2004 - 10:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Any moment now we are going to be seeing the civil administrator, Paul Bremer -- there he is at the microphones in Iraq -- addressing reporters. It's a rare opportunity for reporters to talk with the man, question him. He is going to be talking about the possible transition -- or delay of transition of power in Iraq.
L. PAUL BREMER, U.S. CIVIL ADMINISTRATOR IN IRAQ: Good afternoon. I have a few remarks I'd like to make before taking your questions.

We are in the middle of the largest troop rotation since the Second World War. Over 100,000 American troops will depart Iraq and be replaced by their compatriots. Many coalition partners have carried on or will be carrying out similar rotations.

Before those completing their service depart, I want to speak directly to the men and women from around the world making up the coalition forces.

After months of arduous, dangerous and uncomfortable duty, many of you are being relieved now by your compatriots. People everywhere know, understand and appreciate the sacrifice you've made.

You have made America and each of your countries and the world a safer place. You can rightly tell your children and their children, "We liberated Iraq and put it on the road to democracy."

Thank you for your service to your country, your service to the world, and your service to the people of Iraq.

There are 133 days before sovereignty returns to an Iraqi government on June 30th. Changes in the mechanism performing an interim government are possible but the date holds.

And hold it should. In the November 15th agreement, the governing council and coalition promised the Iraqi people sovereignty on a date certain and we will give it to them.

The coalition's goal has always been an Iraq which is free and democratic, peaceful and prosperous, sovereign and united. The plan to achieve that goal is divided into three interdependent parts: security, governance and the economy.

BREMER: We've made great progress in all three. Turning first to security, it has always been obvious the Iraqis must be the ultimate guarantors of their own security. We always knew that what began as a coalition effort would have to become an Iraqi effort in partnership with the coalition countries and eventually a wholly Iraqi effort.

This transformation is under way and, in spite of painful losses, it is progressing.

Iraqis continue to swell the ranks to their armed forces. Our Iraqi comrades in arms and the coalition forces continue to capture or kill foreign terrorists, subversives and others who would derail Iraqi's movement toward democracy.

It is increasingly apparent that the terrorists and subversives cannot win, and it's apparent that they know it.

In a letter drafted by al Qaeda associate Abu Musab Zarqawi, he lays it out, in his own words, the facts as seen by the subversives and the terrorists.

Zarqawi admits that he and his terrorists have failed to intimidate the coalition. He says, "America did not come to leave, and it will not leave no matter how numerous his wounds become and how much his blood is spilled."

Zarqawi knows that attacks on Iraqis provoke hatred of and resistance to the terrorists. He says, "How can we fight their cousins and their sons, under what pretext, after the Americans pull back?"

Zarqawi and all the others know they are falling behind in a race against time, a race against Iraqi self-government when he says, "Democracy is coming, and there will be no excuse thereafter for the attacks."

In their desperation, the terrorists are trying to provoke a chaotic bloodbath. They see it as their only help to retrieve an otherwise hopeless situation. They explicitly want to set Iraqi on Iraqi in a cynical effort to kindle sectarian violence. They will not succeed.

The growing strength and confidence of Iraq's security forces will eventually overwhelm subversives and terrorists. Iraqis will in time secure their own country.

Make no mistake: The last terrorist in Iraq will be killed or captured by Iraqis.

On the question of governance and political developments, all of you have reported on the likely changes and adjustments in the road to sovereignty, as well you should. Iraqi sovereignty is important to people all around the world, not just to Iraqis.

But the changes should not distract us from reaching the goals that we set out in the coalition at liberation. We said we seek a representative and sovereign Iraqi government.

BREMER: That government should be bound by a transitional administrative law that protects fundamental rights and provides a stable political structure. Under that law, Iraqis will enjoy freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and the freedom of religious belief and practice. All Iraqis will stand equally before the law, regardless of ethnicity, regardless of religion and regardless of gender. Iraq will be a single country with one currency, one foreign policy, one army, one police force and one national border.

These are the core values and precepts of the coalition countries, and they will be embedded in the transitional administrative law.

The changes being worked out at the national level, of course, are important, but the seed beds of participatory democracy are thriving. And this is crucial, because democracy is more than just elections. Democracy rests on pluralism and the balance of power at multiple levels. That is why the United States is spending almost half a billion dollars to promote civil society in Iraq. These programs are working.

Hundreds of local and provincial councils have been formed. Student councils, women's groups, parent-teachers associations have been created in thousands of places. Professional organizations -- physicians and lawyers and engineers -- have come into being all over the country. These are the essential elements of civil society.

Neither security nor government can be sustained without money and without economic activity, so let me finish with a few words about the economy.

A moribund economy sooner or later leads to a moribund and insecure society. Iraq's once moribund economy is coming to life. As all of you know when you drive around, consumer goods are widely available. The Iraqi Central Bank, which was wholly subservient, has been independent since September.

The currency exchange was one of the most successful in history under extremely daunting circumstances. We put 4.6 trillion new Iraqi dinars in place, and finished on time and on budget.

BREMER: Iraq now enjoys observer status at the World Trade Organization.

The restoration and expansion of electrical services continues. Last week, electrical production hit its highest point since the war on a seven-day average of 4,260 megawatts. Yesterday we generated 98,917 megawatt hours of power: a record since liberation. We continue to project 6,000 megawatts of peak power by July 1st.

Telephone service continues to expand, with more than 95 percent of service outside of Baghdad around the country and substantial progress within Baghdad. Hospitals, schools, food supplies, water resources are all at or above prewar levels. It's not good enough yet, but progress has been made. All of this economic activity will be further boosted by the $10.2 billion of reconstruction contracts funded from the supplemental budget that we expect to let by July 1st. Progress in each of these areas -- security, governance, economics -- reinforces each of the others. Not every piece will move just when we thought and there will be bumps on the road, but we have made great progress to date.

Thank you. I'll take your questions.

QUESTION (through translator): What is the American strategy, the case of winning or losing by President Bush toward Iraq? Will the American strategy change if President George Bush loses the election?

BREMER: I try to make it a habit not to answer hypothetical questions, but in this case I don't expect President Bush to lose the election, nor do I expect there to be any change in American policy.

The American people understand the importance of what we have done here: liberating 25 million people from a vicious tyranny, fighting the global war on terrorism and bringing democracy and pluralism to this country. We will continue on that until we succeed.

QUESTION (through translator): Will there be a second source for legislation for the Iraqi new law in addition to the Islamic sharia, the Islamic law?

BREMER: It's important to go back to the principles of the November 15th agreement, in which the governing council committed itself to a transitional law which will respect fundamental rights, as I said in my opening statement, including the fundamental right to freedom of religion, while recognizing the Islamic nature of Iraqi society.

I don't want to predict at this point how precisely those principles will be recognized in the transitional law, because the governing council is just now considering the draft of that. But I'm assuming that the governing council will stick with what it said and recognize those freedoms and the equality of all Iraqis irrespective, as I said in my statement, of religion, ethnicity or gender.

QUESTION (through translator): Mr. Bremer, the secretary general of the United Nations, according to what is mentioned in one of the Japanese newspapers papers in a meeting with him, is that there is no possibility to conduct elections during the set time for the transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqis. What is the alternative, in your opinion, if it is difficult to conduct elections?

BREMER: As I understand the process, the secretary general intends to issue his views on this question in the next 24 hours and I would prefer to wait until I hear what he has to say.

There are, as I have pointed out before, a number of ways in which a transitional government could be selected if it was not possible to hold elections. It is a very complicated task to do it if you don't do it with elections. With the governing council, we put forward a proposal to do it by means of caucuses. But there are literally dozens of ways to carry out this very complicated task. There are caucuses that cascade downwards, upward-cascading caucuses. Various other kinds of selections, partial elections.

On all of these matters we are going to wait until we hear what the secretary general has to say and what Mr. Brahimi has to say. But I just invite your attention to how complicated it is.

QUESTION: If we could get your view on al Qaeda, we've seen a number of reports recently giving conflicting accounts as to whether it's here, one in Baquba saying they've detained seven members of the group linked to it. And I wonder if you have anything on a group that's recently surfaced, called Jaish Ansar al-Sunna?

BREMER: On the narrow question of the events in Baquba, my understanding is that at the moment we do not consider the people who were rounded up to be al Qaeda. They appear to be Iraqi extremists. But I will wait until we finish the interrogation of them to give you a final view on it.

However, it is clear that we have major elements of terrorist groups, including al Qaeda. They have been here basically all along. Ansar al-Islam is a group to whom Zarqawi is connected, as he is also connected to al Qaeda. Sometimes it's hard to make an actual distinction.

But what we do know is that we are on the forefront of the war against terrorism, a fact which is recognized by Zarqawi in his letter. He knows that they have to try to beat us and the Iraqis here. And that is their strategy.

Jaish Ansar al-Sunna appears to be a successor organization to Ansar al-Islam or a subset of it. I've been working against terrorist groups for more than 20 years now, and it's sometimes hard to know exactly where the boundaries of these groups are.

We do know we have a serious problem. We know these terrorists are now targeting Iraqis and killing many, many more Iraqis than they are killing coalition forces. I think we can be proud of the resilience of the Iraqi security forces against these terrible threats.

QUESTION: Your Excellency, Mr. Ambassador, you have (UNINTELLIGIBLE). What you don't understand what you mean, you said in your statements in Karbala that you do not want to have the Islamic religion as the main source of writing the constitution. What do you mean by that?

You said also that the agreement between you and the G.C. regarding the -- on the 15th of Tishri regarding the constitution and the establishment of the government.

Also, with regard to the transition of law, there are some sources gave us a draft of this law that does not refer to Islam in a principal way, does not refer to federalism in a principal way. Do you expect that this law will create a problem? Or would it be a stumbling block or a hamper to transfer of authority and sovereignty to the Iraqis?

BREMER: I don't see much point in getting drawn into a discussion of the various drafts. There have been lots of drafts around.

I think it's better to talk about the principles. And the principles are laid out on November 15th.

And the principles are that the transitional law should recognize the Islamic character with the majority of the Iraqi people, and that there should be freedom of religion, freedom of religious practices, equality before the law for all individuals.

Let's wait and see how this particular document is brought out.

I have said repeatedly over the months that we also believe that a federal structure is the appropriate structure for Iraq; and that response to request from many Iraqis for the benefits of federalism which are providing a clear way to devolve power from the center out to places closer to the people. And we think that's an important thing to happen here after having so many years where all power was held by one man.

I expect that the transitional law will address both the question of Islam and federalism. And when the time comes, I'll have comments on it.

QUESTION: Just to pick up on that point, I just wanted to be clear about this. Just a couple of days ago, you appeared to indicate quite clearly that, in your view, it would not be acceptable for Islamic sharia law to be the basis of Iraq's transitional law. And my blunt question to you is: Truly what business is it of yours to define Iraq's future laws when it's a sovereign nation?

BREMER: We are in the process of discussing this and many, many other issues about what should be in the transitional law over the period ahead.

We are basing that on the principles that were agreed upon between the governing council and us on November 15th. And we intend to reach agreement with them on schedule by next week on this and many other aspects, federalism among others.

We have an obligation as the sovereign power to do our best to ensure that an appropriate, democratic structure is put in place here while we are here so that we can deliver to the Iraqis what they want, which is a democratic, unified, stable country at peace with itself; a consistent message we've had for the last 10 months.

LIN: All right, we've been listening to U.N. civilian -- excuse me, the civilian administrator for the United States in Iraq, Paul Bremer, addressing questions by reporters. And the headline so far out of this briefing has been that the civilian administrator does believe that elections will be held, some form of government will be formed by the June 30 deadline. Whether -- it won't be direct elections, it may be caucus style elections, lots of different elections. Perhaps even something like expanding the existing governing council.

But the transfer of power, the process will begin. And June 30 still remains a significant date in that goal.

That is different from what CNN is hearing out of the United Nations so far. The secretary-general there does not think that a ballot style election can be held by June 30. We're waiting to hear what comes out of that lunch-time meeting with the secretary-general and the U.N. envoy to Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi.

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