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12:00 PM AUGUST 24, 2003

Interview w/ Ambassador Paul Bremer

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning, everyone. The military now calls Iraq a magnet for terrorists, and a new poll indicates that more and more Americans are worried that there may be no good way out.

ANNOUNCER: This week, Iraq at a defining moment. In the wake of the bombing of U.N. headquarters, does the U.S. need to send more troops, can the U.S. convince more countries to contribute their troops and money? From Baghdad, the man in the eye of the storm.

AMBASSADOR L. PAUL BREMER: These people are not content with having killed thousands of people before, they just want to keep killing, and killing, and killing.

ANNOUNCER: Then, the man who has been billed as the brightest young face in the Democratic Party, the next Bill Clinton.

SENATOR JOHN EDWARDS: I'm very much, I think, a Washington outsider.

ANNOUNCER: On the campaign trail with John Edwards, and his entire family.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: That is a very different kind of campaign.

SENATOR JOHN EDWARDS: Oh, it's a good kind of campaign.

ANNOUNCER: From ABC News in Washington, This Week with George Stephanopoulos.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: A Newsweek poll out today shows that the persistent violence in Iraq is starting to take a toll on President Bush's political standing. When the president declared an end to major combat operations on May 1st, 69 percent of Americans approved of his handling of Iraq. Now it's down to 54 percent. The president's overall approval rating has dropped to 53 percent, back to the lowest levels he's seen since before the September 11th attacks.

Sixty-one percent of Americans still say that the U.S. did the right thing in taking military action against Iraq, but 69 percent fear that the U.S. will be bogged down for many years in Iraq without achieving its goals.

Our guest is the man in charge of making sure that doesn't happen, Ambassador Paul Bremer is managing the U.S. effort in Iraq, and he joins us now from Baghdad.

Good morning, Ambassador Bremer. I know that the poll numbers aren't much of a welcome, but are all those Americans wrong about being worried about getting bogged down in Iraq?

AMBASSADOR L. PAUL BREMER: Well, I think they are. I think the most important statistic is that six Americans out of ten think we did the right thing coming to Iraq, as you just quoted. And that's really what's important. What we did here, Mr. Stephanopoulos, was an amazing thing. We freed 25 million people from one of the most bloody tyrannies we've seen in the 20th Century. We've given them their freedom, and now we have to consolidate and move ahead with the economy, and we're doing that. And I think I can assure the American people that as we do that, we are also engaged in a very important war against terrorism. Most Americans understand that, they understand that two years ago on September 11th a bunch of real murderers declared war on America, and we're going to have to fight them where we find them. And where we find them right now is Iraq.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: But, as you said, the security challenge in Iraq right now is obviously very, very serious. The U.N. bombing this week, bombing on oil and water services, Allied soldiers were killed again this week. And I just want to go through some of that and start out with the U.N. bombing. Have you come to any further conclusions about who was responsible?

AMBASSADOR L. PAUL BREMER: No. I think my experience in following terrorism going back now almost 20 years is, you really have to wait and go where the facts take you. You could put forward three different possibilities, it was done by international terrorists, it was done by some members of the former regime, or it was done in some combination between the two. And, as of right now, the facts don't let me, anyway, draw a conclusion one way or the other. What you can say is, these were people, who ever they were, who had no respect for life. The most innocent of life. These were people, the U.N. people were people who came here with nothing in mind but to help the Iraqis rebuild their country. They had no political agenda, and it just shows that these terrorists, whoever they were, have no sense of proportion, they don't share the vision of a free and democratic Iraq, an Iraq that's reconstructed. That much you can certainly say.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: But how about the broader pattern? Can you quantify how many of these attacks are being perpetrated by remnants of Saddam Hussein's regime, and how many are being inspired by the new international terrorists that are coming into Iraq?

AMBASSADOR L. PAUL BREMER: I think what you can say at this point is, by far the vast majority, probably more than 90 percent of the attacks we've seen have been conducted by remnants of the former regime, the trained killers of the Fedayeen Saddam, the remnants of Saddam's Ba'athist regime. And if you look at the attacks on the coalition, with very few exceptions, regrettably one yesterday in Basra, with very few exceptions, the attacks have been in a small area of Iraq between Baghdad and Tikrit, and these have been conducted by squad level operations by these Fedayeen Saddam. The same is probably true for almost all the attacks that you mentioned earlier on the pipelines and the power grids. Those attacks, of course, are not attacks on the coalition, those are attacks on the Iraqi people because it denies the Iraqi people their assets. The attack a week ago on the export pipeline is costing the Iraqi people every day $7 million, $7 million a day, and we've now got ·· we're in the eighth day now.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: So, you say, by far most of these attacks are being conducted by remnants of Saddam Hussein's regime. So, did General Abizaid, the head of Central Command, go too far this week when he said the number one emerging security threat in Iraq is international terrorism?

AMBASSADOR L. PAUL BREMER: No. Not at all. I was talking about the past, and General Abizaid was talking about the future. I completely share his assessment that we have an emerging problem. The global war on terrorism is being fought in many, many places. It started for us in a big way in New York, but you could say it's in Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam. We've seen it in Somalia. We've seen it in Saudi Arabia, and we are now seeing a large number of international terrorists coming into Iraq.


AMBASSADOR L. PAUL BREMER: I think for the American people to understand ·· well, probably several hundred, probably several hundred. And I think most Americans understand that it's better for us to fight and win this war here than to have to fight it on the streets of the United States.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, you've said that before. And I want to now play something that you've said, and also President Bush and General Sanchez, along those same lines and get you to respond. Let me put it up right now.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH (From video): There are some who feel like the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is, bring them on. We've got the force necessary to deal with the security situation.

GENERAL JOHN ABIZAID (From video): This is what I would call a terrorist magnet where American being present here in Iraq creates a target of opportunity, if you will, but this is exactly where we want to fight them. We want to fight them here, we're prepared for them, and this will prevent the American people from having to go through other attacks back in the United States.

AMBASSADOR L. PAUL BREMER: It's the kind of thing that we've seen before in so many places, and it's something that we have to beat, and I must say, I think we must now defeat it here in Iraq, better to fight it here than to fight it somewhere else like the United States.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Now, when you look at that pattern of rhetoric, it sound almost as if you are welcoming this battle in this place as if you set some sort of deliberate trap.

AMBASSADOR L. PAUL BREMER: No, I think that's not ·· we didn't seek this fight, we don't seek this fight. The fight against terrorism was declared, basically the war was declared by those murderers on the morning of September 11th, two years ago. We can't duck this fight. It's a fight against us. It's a fight against the west. It's a fight, as we saw on Tuesday, against the international community and against the world. And, as the Secretary General of the U.N. said on Wednesday, the world cannot be intimidated, the U.N. is not intimidated, I was very touched and proud to see that all of the U.N. agencies here in Baghdad were open for business yesterday, Saturday, only four days after this attack. It's an admirable demonstration that if the terrorists thought by this kind of an attack they were going to intimidate the United Nations and the international community, they got it dead wrong.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you think it's fair to say that there are more of these international terrorists in Iraq today than there were before the war?

AMBASSADOR L. PAUL BREMER: It's hard to know. We know that before the war there was a very large terrorist camp run by a group called Ansar al Islam in the North of Iraq. We hit it, hit that camp early in the war, killed a number of terrorists, unfortunately not enough. Many of them escaped across the border into Iran and have been infiltrating back, probably scores of them. Whether there are more here now or not is not really the question, it seems to me. We've got to deal with what we've got, which is a significant terrorist threat, and we've got to defeat it here.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, it could be a question, though, because one of the rationales for taking military action against Iraq in the first place was possible ties between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda and international terrorism. And if, in fact, the problem has gotten worse since the invasion then you've got a real serious problem to deal with.

AMBASSADOR L. PAUL BREMER: Well, let's separate two things. There's no question that Saddam Hussein's regime was a terrorist regime, it's been identified as that going back I think four administrations of both parties, almost 20 years. There's no contest on that question. It ceased being a terrorist regime on April 9th of this year. Secondly, there's no question that there were ties between Al-Qaeda and the Saddam regime, and between Al-Qaeda and Ansar al Islam, the group we're talking about now. Those were all facts before the war. It doesn't detract from the reason for going to the war, it doesn't change the situation. We do have a problem now with more terrorists here, and I agree with General Abizaid, it emerges now as an important threat to us.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Mr. Ambassador, so far the Shiite majority in Iraq has been accepting of the U.S. presence. Do you see any sign at all that they're starting to join the resistance?

AMBASSADOR L. PAUL BREMER: Well, let me first object to the word resistance. The people who are resisting here are resisting the vision of a democratic and free Iraq, they're not resisting us. I don't really see that. I made a trip to the South, I try to travel a fair amount, about a week ago. I went to Ad Diwaniya and al Amara down in the south, and I must say I found there very strong support for the coalition. What's happening here that sometimes is missed back home is that we are carrying out literally thousands of programs in reconstruction at the village and the town level. When you go down, and this was in the Shia heartland, and you find 86 schools in Diwaniya, for example, that have been constructed by the United States and by the coalition, you find hospitals where generators have been fixed, air conditioners have been put into clinics, you find people who are very appreciative of what the coalition has done. So I think that's an important story. The American people should understand that that money is being well spent, and it is really showing progress.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm sure that's true, but when American and British soldiers are being targeted, there obviously is some resistance there. And I guess the question now is how do you stop it, how do you get to the bottom of it. The Washington Post reported this morning that the U.S. is now actively recruiting agents of Saddam Hussein's security services to try to infiltrate these resistance elements. What can you tell us about that?

AMBASSADOR L. PAUL BREMER: Well, it won't surprise you to know that we don't get the Washington Post out here, and I haven't had a chance to study it. I try not to talk about intelligence matters. Let me tell you what we are doing. Again, I want to repeat, most of the attacks, by far the majority of attacks against coalition forces, with the exception of the attack yesterday in Basra, have been in an area that is not in the Shia region, it's in the area north of Baghdad. We're doing basically three things. Number one, we are trying to improve our intelligence against these people. A very important point is that more and more Iraqis are coming in and giving us intelligence about where the bad guys are, and it allows us to go out and arrest them. Secondly, we are reconfiguring out forces to make them more mobile, so they can move around more easily. And third, we're encouraging the Iraqis to take the lead.

I know very well the new Iraqi chief of police, a guy named Ahmed Ibrahim (ph). He was thrown in jail by Saddam, he was fired from his job. He's a very brave man, and he is now heading up more than 40,000 police who are on duty, Iraqi police who are on duty across this country. He's actively out looking for bad guys, got shot in the leg a couple of weeks ago on one of these raids, and continued to conduct all of the operations of his police force from his hospital bed until he was able to move around again. He's just emblematic of a lot of very courageous Iraqis who are stepping forward now and trying to reclaim their county from these Ba'athists.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And if they are, I take it, you're not denying that you may be reaching out to some former members of the security services? And when I spoke to Ahmad Chalabi, a member of the Iraqi governing council this morning, he was quite exorcised about the fact that you're not actually arresting more of the former Ba'ath Party members, he says you should be arresting thousands of these Ba'ath Party members, and you haven't done it, because you're afraid of taking the heat.

AMBASSADOR L. PAUL BREMER: I haven't spoken to Mr. Chalabi about that. It doesn't sound to me like he's very well informed. We have thousands of people that we have arrested, and almost, I would say by far the majority, probably 90 percent of those people are or were connected in some way with the former regime. So I honestly don't know what he's talking about.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, sir, there's been this debate going on, Senator John McCain, who was in Iraq this week, is now leading this debate saying more troops have to be added to Iraq, more U.S. troops have to be put on the ground. I know you say you don't deal with military matters. But, have you ever made a request for more troops that has been denied by the military?

AMBASSADOR L. PAUL BREMER: No, I've never made a request for more troops that's been agreed to. I never made a request for more troops. I agree with the CENTCOM Commander John Abizaid, who said earlier this week in a press conference that he believes we have enough troops here. I think that's right. It's not a question of more troops, it's a question of being effective with our intelligence, getting more Iraqis to help us. There are more than 50,000 Iraqis now working with us on security matters in the police and the border guards and the civil defense corps, and in the new Iraqi army. So Iraqis are more and more assuming responsibility for their security here.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: But, both you and President Bush have said you would welcome more troops from other countries. If you would welcome more troops from other countries doesn't that indicate a need for more troops?

AMBASSADOR L. PAUL BREMER: What I think you'll find if you talk to the military planners, of which I'm not one, is that they're talking about what is going to happen, for example, here on September 3rd, when the Marines, the first Marine Expeditionary Force will be replaced by foreign troops, in this case a Polish division, an international division under Polish command. It's a question of how you rotate troops and what kind of configuration you have. It's not a question of numbers.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Okay. Ambassador Bremer, thank you very much.

AMBASSADOR L. PAUL BREMER: Nice to be with you.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: When we come back I'll be joined by my colleagues at the roundtable to talk more about Iraq, Israel, and Arnold Schwarzenegger's surprising drop in the Los Angeles Times poll just out this morning.



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