A Grand Mission Ends Quietly
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, June 29, 2004; Page A01
BAGHDAD, June 28 -- L. Paul Bremer arrived here almost 14 months ago with a seemingly limitless reserve of energy and a mission unparalleled in U.S. diplomatic history: to remake a nation by using near dictatorial powers.
When he left Iraq on Monday after surrendering authority to an interim government, it was with a somber air of exhaustion. There was no farewell address to the Iraqi people, no celebratory airport sendoff. Instead of a festive handover ceremony on Wednesday, the date set for the transfer, an improvised event occupied five minutes on a Monday morning.
The secrecy and brevity of the ceremony were in keeping with the precarious future of the Iraq that Bremer built. Setting out with a vision to transform Iraq into a model of Western democracy and capitalism for the rest of the Arab world, he has left behind a country freed from a tyrannical past but also with grave security threats, a sputtering economy and an appointed government with little popular support.
The stealth of Bremer's final act was occasioned by security concerns that have bedeviled the Coalition Provisional Authority that ruled Iraq. With insurgent activity far from contained by 138,000 U.S. troops, diplomats and reconstruction specialists have curtailed travel outside Baghdad's highly fortified Green Zone. U.S.-funded projects, from repairing power plants to seminars on democracy, have been put on hold. Even Bremer, in his last months in the country, gave up the vigorous barnstorming he loved as occupier in chief.
Any public celebration of U.S. achievements here would have been a target not only for insurgents, but for questioning of Bremer and the CPA's unfinished business, from promises to double electrical power generation to training thousands more police officers.
Bremer, a 62-year-old former ambassador and counterterrorism expert, but a Middle East neophyte, was dispatched to Iraq by President Bush with broad powers and an equally broad mandate. He was to install a democratic government and a free-market economy on the ruins of three decades of dictatorship and socialism. His resources were limited -- both in reconstruction funds and soldiers to keep the peace -- but his ambition was not.
Bremer made an immediate impression with his style and energy. A veteran of 20 marathons, he woke at 5 a.m. most days and kept working until midnight, meeting with rival factions, shuttling across the country in a helicopter and issuing edicts. In contrast to his predecessor, retired Lt. Gen. Jay M. Garner, whose casual, aloof style irritated Iraqis, Bremer always wore a coat and tie "as a sign of respect," he said. (These were accessorized with combat boots, a look copied by other U.S. officials.) He studied Arabic, keeping a stack of flash cards in his suit pocket. He sought to travel as much as he could.
In the end, it was not always easy to determine which failings or successes of the occupation belonged to Bremer and which were beyond his control. The failure to deploy more troops in Iraq, a decision in which he was not involved, was one significant factor in the rise of the insurgency. Other U.S. officials said the growth of the resistance was also accelerated by Bremer's decision to disband the Iraqi army and his inability to muster enough resources to put unemployed Iraqis to work on reconstruction projects.
With security deteriorating, the only Iraqis with whom Bremer could practice his Arabic were members of the Governing Council he had appointed and who were holed up with him inside the Green Zone. Trips around Baghdad became less frequent.
Although even his toughest critics praised him for his punishing work schedule, they questioned why Bremer did not recruit more seasoned diplomats with experience in the Arab world. They criticized him for relying instead on young, inexperienced staffers with Republican Party connections. The critics, including many within the CPA, also faulted him for not pushing to get the $18.6 billion in U.S. reconstruction funds spent more quickly.
To many Iraqis, including members of the interim government, the CPA has become a symbol of American failure. Many of its promises to the Iraqi people, including pledges to mount a massive reconstruction effort and create a competent security force, have gone unfulfilled. In a recent opinion poll of Iraqis sponsored by the U.S. government, 85 percent of those responding said they lacked confidence in the CPA.
In his last week in Iraq, Bremer crisscrossed the country in much the same way he did when he arrived. But instead of driving through cities and plunging into crowds, he stayed largely on military bases. Iraqis he wanted to see had to come to him.
A top aide to Bremer warned reporters a week ago that the transfer of political authority in Iraq would not resemble the British handover in Hong Kong in 1997, a multi-day affair replete with marching bands, honor guards and fireworks.
Even so, some Americans and Iraqis here were taken by surprise by Monday's lack of historical moment. To some Iraqis, it seemed as if Bremer had slighted them one final time by not making the handover into a grander gesture. To some Americans working for the CPA, it recalled the departure of U.S. diplomats from Saigon in 1975.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
The former U.S. administrator, L. Paul Bremer, left, and Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih are flanked by armed guards before Bremer boarded a flight out of Iraq yesterday, a few hours after relinquishing political authority.
(Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen Via Reuters)
An article June 29 on the departure from Iraq of U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer stated that Bremer did not deliver a farewell address to the Iraqi people. Although he did not deliver prepared remarks to an audience on the day he left, a U.S.-funded television station in Iraq broadcast remarks he had taped two days earlier, his spokesman said.
_____Road to Sovereignty_____
What Lies Ahead: With the transfer of political power to an interim government, Iraq has taken its first step toward a constitutional government.
Transcript: The Post's Scott Wilson in Baghdad.
Transcript: The Post's Robert G. Kaiser discusses the handover of political authority in Iraq.
MSNBC Video: U.S. administrator Paul Bremer formally transfers political authority to Iraq's interim government.
MSNBC Video: The Post's Rajiv Chandreskaran describes the mood in Baghdad following the handover.
Transcript: Iraqi President, Prime Minister
Video: President Bush in Istanbul
Transcript: Bush, British Prime Minister Blair