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9:00 AM AUGUST 24, 2003 ___________________________________________ 

An Interview with Ambassador Bremer

MR. TONY SNOW: Last week's bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad raises a host of questions about U.S. policy in Iraq. Are we winning the peace? Who is responsible for the recent mayhem? And, what role should the U.N. play in bringing liberal democracy to Iraq?

For answers, we turn to the U.S. administrator in Iraq, Ambassador L. Paul Bremer. Ambassador Bremer, first, I want to get your sense of the reaction within Iraq to the bombing. Has it created new sympathy for the United States and the coalition forces?

AMBASSADOR PAUL BREMER: Well, it's hard to judge overall public opinion in a country like this with such primitive communications, but I would say it does look like kind of a wake-up call to the Iraqi people and to the international community. It showed that this war on terrorism which we are fighting here is a war against the whole international community. I mean, after all, this was an attack on perfectly innocent people who were here doing nothing more than trying to help Iraq reconstruct its economy, and that's a pretty serious thing to have happen.

MR. SNOW: Do you believe that other members of the international community had made a mistake perhaps in thinking that the war on terror was focused only on the United States and not on them?

AMB. BREMER: Well, as you know, Tony, because you and I have talked about it a lot over the last couple of years, I have always felt that the war that was declared on September 11th was not just against the United States. You will recall that citizens from 86 different countries were killed on September 11th in New York and in Washington. It is a global war. It is a global war against the respected international community and I think that was certainly brought home here on Tuesday again with the attack on the U.N. headquarters.

MR. SNOW: Do you suspect that there is any link between the bombing of the U.N. headquarters and the previous bombing of the Jordanian embassy?

AMB. BREMER: It's possible. They both involved, first, obviously, car bombs. They both involved high explosives. The one at the U.N. building was probably three times as powerful as the one at the Jordanian mission. It's a little early to know in the investigation, really, of both of these attacks who did it, but whoever did it was certainly showing again that terrorists do not respect innocent life, and they -- there's really nobody they wouldn't -- wouldn't kill.

MR. SNOW: There have been a number of politicians in this country -- there have been press reports indicating that people are getting a little squeamish about U.S. commitments to the region. The question is -- let me put it this way -- give us a progress report at this point on how much success coalition forces are having in clamping down on terrorist cells within Iraq.

AMB. BREMER: We have sort of three levels of security problems here. One of them -- (inaudible) -- terrorists. That is, I think, a threat that is emerging as terrorists appear to be re-infiltrating into Iraq, particularly groups like Ansr Al-Islam and some other foreign terrorist groups. There what we need is better intelligence against them, and we're going to try to do that. Secondly, we have the attacks against coalition forces. Those are confined to a fairly small area in Iraq, and they're coming from a small group of remnants of the old regime, "bitter enders" I call them, who don't share the vision of a free and open Iraq. And thirdly, we have security threats with attacks on the infrastructure here. A pipeline attack we had last week, the attack on the water main -- those two seem to be coming from these ex-Ba'athists. 

And in the case of all three of these, what we are doing is trying to engage more Iraqis in the fight. We have now almost 60,000 Iraqis in the police force and the border police, in the new Iraqi army, in the Iraqi civil defense force, all of them working together.

And you know, Tony, one of the most memorable moments for me of this bombing on Tuesday when I went down there with three members of the governing council, was seeing a group of Iraqi civil defense workers side-by-side with American soldiers, pulling a, fortunately, living U.N. worker out from the rubble. I mean, it was a good example of how we're working together here on security matters.

MR. SNOW: Nevertheless, there has been some speculation that maybe that bombing was an inside job. I know at this point you don't have the after action report and don't know for sure, but do you fear that some of those forces have been penetrated by Ba'athists and others hostile to the coalition?

AMB. BREMER: It is certainly a working hypothesis, one of many, that this may have been done by members of the ex-regime, the killers of the Fedayeen Saddam or people like that -- it's possible. And it certainly is a hypothesis that we need to keep open until the facts lead us in some other direction, if they do. And so, we obviously have to be concerned about where these guys are. I think it's really too early to make a judgment -- we're not even a week after the attack yet.

MR. SNOW: Today's Washington Post is reporting that coalition forces have for some time been recruiting members of the Mukhabarat, the Saddam secret police, and getting intelligence from them. Are you getting useful intelligence from former members of Saddam's regime?

AMB. BREMER: Well, I don't like to get too much into intelligence matters for obvious reasons, but I can tell you a couple of good stories about it. 

Starting about a month ago, we found more and more Iraqi citizens, just plain citizens, coming in to the Iraqi police, coming in to our military, and telling them where the bad guys were, or where large caches were. We had somebody come in, in the north, just two days ago, and led us to a cache of shoulder-held surface-to-air missiles. This is happening more and more frequently.

A second thing that's happening which is relevant is quite a few of these people are now turning themselves in, rather than fighting us, rather than being killed by us, rather than being detained by us. They're actually coming in and surrendering and saying "I'll take my chances. I want to talk to you. I want to tell you about what I've been up to." 

So, we are getting information from the Iraqis now in a way we were not even a month ago.

MR. SNOW: Are you also getting, therefore, information that is useful on trying to find weapons of mass destruction?

AMB. BREMER: Well, I don't want to get too far into that subject other than to say that David Kay, who is running the search here, has spoken of making progress. I am confident that we will find evidence of the programs in chemical and biological warfare, and I'll leave it to David Kay at the appropriate time to make whatever comments he wants to make on that.

MR. SNOW: We have been led to believe by congressional delegations that Mr. Kay has some pretty eye-popping stuff. Have you seen any of his evidence? And do you believe, that when presented to the American people it will put an end to questions about weapons of mass destruction before the war?

AMB. BREMER: Well, Tony, you know, I really don't want to get into intelligence matters that are very sensitive in public. I think, when the evidence is out, I think we will see, as I have said, I am confident we will find evidence of these programs in chemical and biological warfare.

MR. SNOW: President Bush this week mentioned his fear, or his conviction actually, that foreign fighters are making their way into Iraq. Richard Armitage also made the further point that they are coming into Iraq from Iran, Syria, and he also mentioned Saudi Arabia. First, how significant is the influx of these foreign fighters? Are they a significant force right now within Iraq?

AMB. BREMER: I'm afraid they are. You may remember there was a large camp run by an al Qaeda organization, or an organization affiliated with al Qaeda called Ansr Al-Islam, in the north of Iraq, in -- just when the war started we hit that camp. We killed a bunch of them -- not enough. The rest of them escaped into Iran, and there are signs that scores of these guys have been re-infiltrating back into Iran since then.

We've also seen foreign fighters coming across, particularly from Syria, and have captured or killed people with Saudi, Yemeni, Syrian passports and travel documents, Sudanese travel documents.

So, I don't yet draw the conclusion that that is by itself an al Qaeda organization, but it certainly has the look and feel of an al Qaeda organization to me, as a former counter-terrorist guy.

MR. SNOW: Do you think there is a demonstrable al Qaeda link?

AMB. BREMER: Well, let me just say that I think there is -- there's growing evidence that the al Qaeda link that was there before the war, between al Qaeda and the former regime, is probably -- is probably still evident in the relations between al Qaeda and probably Ansr Al-Islam. But, you know, intelligence in this area is a lot of clouds, and you've got to -- you've got to have very good infrared radar to see through it.

MR. SNOW: You've talked about the infiltration from three different countries. There are also explosions on pipelines and other infrastructure. Senator John McCain has said, and I quote, "We must win this conflict. We need a lot more military, and I'm convinced we need to spend a lot more money." Is he right?

AMB. BREMER: Well, I think we're going to be spending more money, there's no question. You have an economy here that was grossly mismanaged for almost 40 years. Almost no money was spend on infrastructure. There's a terrible lack of electricity, as you all have seen in the press reports. We have vulnerabilities at the pipelines. The best way to protect that is going to be to get the Iraqi people to help us. It's their money that is lost when the pipeline is blown up, as it was a week ago -- $7 million a day in lost revenues every day that pipeline is not working. And we're going to have to involve more and more Iraqis in that work. We're getting them. We're hiring them to guard the pipeline, for example. We have a special pipeline security force we're recruiting. I think that's where the additional -- that's where the additional people are mostly going to come from.

MR. SNOW: Ambassador, you have mentioned again, we have talked about foreign fighters -- do you think that the terror network looks upon Iraq as the place where it's going to make its last stand?

AMB. BREMER: Well, it's a plausible argument, because the terrorists hate everything that we stand for, the United States, and they hate the vision we have for Iraq, because the vision we have for Iraq is fundamentally threatening to the terrorist vision. Our vision is of a democracy, of people making free choice, where they worship, what kind of jobs they have, what kind of schools they go to, whether they can elect their own people. These are anathema to these extremist terrorists, and I suppose they could calculate that if we can succeed in Iraq, it will change the entire structure of the area, of this area of the world. And so it certainly is attracting a lot of them here and it shows what the stakes are for all Americans. We've got to win this fight here.

MR. SNOW: Ambassador Bremer, final question. Can and should the U.N. play a further military role in Iraq?

AMB. BREMER: It's hard for me to see how the U.N. itself can play a further military role because the U.N., in my experience, normally insists on commanding its own troops, and -- or having a separate command for its own troops. Every single expert I know who has looked at these transition situations insists, and I agree, that there must be unity of command, that all military forces must be under a single command, which means under coalition command. 

However, the U.N. clearly has a vital role to play in the reconstruction of Iraq. And I have to say I was delighted to see, proud to see all of the U.N. agencies back at work again yesterday -- UNICEF, the WHO -- the World Health Organization -- UNESCO, they were all back at work yesterday, some of them in tents, some of them in trailers, but they're not going to get scared off by these terrorists.

MR. SNOW: Ambassador Bremer, thanks for joining us today.

Up next, is it time to send more troops to Iraq? We'll ask a senator and congressman who have just toured the region.




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