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. (Published 7/9/04)
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.
"I knew there were big security concerns, but I figured that at the very least we'd have a ceremony with a few hundred Iraqis -- something that would be televised for the country to see," one American working for the CPA said. "This was embarrassing."
Another CPA staff member described Bremer's departure as a "tail-between-your-legs exit."
"We should have held up our heads high," the staff member said. "Everything may not have worked out as we had planned, but we did do a lot of good. Don't forget: We got rid of Saddam."
A senior aide to Bremer said the CPA had intended to hold the ceremony before the announced date, likely on Tuesday, because intelligence analysts had predicted a rash of insurgent attacks on Wednesday, the planned handover date. The aide said it was moved to Monday at the request of the interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, who met with Bremer to discuss it Sunday.
Bremer concurred with Allawi, but kept the information limited to a handful of his top advisers, a senior U.S. official said. The official said Bremer also informed the White House and the Pentagon of the schedule change.
The small cadre of CPA officials who knew about the change stayed up all night preparing for the event, which was held in the prime minister's office in the Green Zone. There were no banners or bands, just a few chairs upholstered in gold fabric arranged around a coffee table with a flower arrangement with a small Iraqi flag.
When Bremer informed his senior staff at 8 a.m. Monday that he would be leaving by noon, there was an emotional reaction but also a sense of the inevitable, participants said. "It was amazing to see how many people were standing out with nothing to do," one of them said. "We were waiting for this arbitrary day, so when Bremer announced it, I don't think there was a surprised face."
Two hours after the ceremony, he was at Baghdad International Airport, where a television camera filmed him walking across the tarmac with Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih. Both men were surrounded by plainclothes security guards. Without making any public comments, Bremer walked up the steps of an Air Force C-130 Hercules transport plane.
As he reached the top step, he turned, waved and ducked into the military aircraft that would take him back to America.