Hospitals & Asylums
My Year in Iraq: The Struggle to Build a Future of Hope
By Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III with Malcolm McConnell
Simon & Schuster. 2006
The Pentagon’s original civil administration, the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) was led by retired US Army Lieutenant General Jay Garner. In April Ambassador Bremer visited the Oval Office to express his interest in leading reconstruction efforts in the military occupation of Iraq. On May 9 President Bush wrote a letter appointing Ambassador Bremer Presidential Envoy to Iraq with full authority over all US government personnel, activities, and funds there. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld followed up, designating the Ambassador administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority, empowered with all executive, legislative and judicial functions in Iraq. May 13 was Bremer’s first night in Iraq.
The Pentagon had anticipated that most of the 715,000 man Iraqi Army, 400,000 of whom were Shiite conscripts, would surrender en masse. Units would remain intact so that soldiers could be employed on ambitious reconstruction projects that paid a steady living wage. Without leadership however the Iraqi Army self demobilized. All the government’s ministers, deputy ministers and thousands of top Baathists had fled also. There was a political power vacuum and a lack of experienced Iraqi leaders. Coalition military commanders hastily assemble village councils or appointed mayors or even governors to create points of contact in the local population. These military appointments were however done without knowledge of the language, the candidates histories or the political consequences.
The Iraqi economy presented a serious challenge. Under the Baathist command economy, with state monopolies controlling distribution of cooking gas and gasoline, subsidized prices were kept artificially low. 98% of the state’s budget came from oil revenues, but these could not be quickly ramped up without UN sanctions forbade such sales. In 1996 the UN established Oil for Food Program, under which limited oil sales were permitted. The revenues deposited in UN controlled accounts were supposed to be used to import food and medicines but the program was reported to be corrupt.
After WWI the British had cobbled Iraq together from three provinces of the former Ottoman Empire, an ally of Imperial Germany. In the south, the Shiite Muslim Arab majority had strong religious ties to Iraq. The Sunni Arab minority, about 20 percent of the population was anchored on tribes and clans of central Iraq. In the north Kurds, Turkmen and Sunni non Arabs live. For hundreds of years under the Ottoman Turks and then under the Baathists the Sunnis had ruled Iraq. For almost three decades the Baath Party had subjugated Iraq. Dominated by Saddam and other Sunni Arabs the Baath Party controlled not only political life, but all of society through a combination of police state terror and command economy.
On May 16 Coalition Provisional Authority No. 1: “De-Baathification of Iraqi Society” provided that the top four levels of party membership were to be excluded from public life, an estimated 1% of all party members, or 20,000. The Coalition had already released the infamous deck of cards which showed pictures of fifty five most powerful people in the Iraqi regime. The order offered rewards for information leading to the capture of senior Baath Party members. The order further stated that the top three layers of management in every national government ministry, affiliated corporation and other govermnet institution, including universities, institutes and hospitals would be reviewed fro possible connection to the Baath party. Any of the managers found to be full members of the Baath Party would be removed from their position in the government, although they would be free to work elsewhere.
That same day the first conference with seven Iraqi representatives, many of whom had been exiled under Saddam, was held. The group came to be referred to as the G-7. It was comprised of Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress, Ayad Allawi leader of the Iraqi National Accord, two Kurds Massoud Barzani, head of the Kurdish Democratic party and Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Naseer Chaderchi leader of the National Democratic Party, Ibrahim al-Jaafari principal representative of the Shiite Islamic Dawa Party and Dr. Adel Mahdi and Hamid al-Bayati of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). The objective of the group was to create a steering committee that would convene a larger group, which would in turn choose an interim government but the Iraqi exiles had bolder ambitions and wanted to speed up the process of electing a government.
Over the years Saddam’s army had slaughtered thousands of Iraqis. In the late 1980s, the army had conducted a brutal campaign of repression in the North killing both Peshmerga resistance fighters and harmless civilians. In the Kurdish town of Halabja ome sunny day in March 1988, Iraqi military planes dropped nerve gas bombs while army helicopters sprayed poison gas on villagers. More than 5,000 Kurds died that morning. Thousands more were scarred for life. The mass graves of Al-Hillah bore witness.
On May 23 CPA Order No. 2: “Dissolution of Entities” dissolved the Defense Ministry, all related national security ministries and office and all military formations, including the Republican Guard, Spcial Republican Guard, Baath Party Militia and the Fedayeen Saddam. A new army was needed but power could not be simply handed back to the old officers. Applicant for officers in the new army would be judged on their individual merits. Old officers would be welcomed back into the military and new officers would be trained. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers from the old army would be paid severance pay. The new army would be only a fraction of the size of the old army but it would be better trained and equipped by the Coalition as the first step in forming a national military. The goal is to meet the international of 350 armed officers per 100,000 citizens.
Iraq has the second largest supply of proven petroleum reserves in the world, some 112 billion barrels. Under Saddam production peaked at 2.5 million barrels per day. At liberation production ceased. Before Saddam Iraq had been one of the region’s more successful economies. The country was earning $75 billion a year in the early 1970s from oil exports in 2003 dollars. Per capita income had peaked at over $7,500 in 1980. With free education and subsidized health this per capita made Iraq a respectable middle-income country. During the 1990s per capita health care spending had fallen from the equivalent of $17 to about 50 cents. Life expectancy in Iraq has fallen to 61 years from 67. According to UNICEF 80 percent of Iraq’s 25,000 schools are in poor condition and at least have to be completely rebuilt. Schools are overcrowded with as many as 180 students per room with an average of one book per six students.
Over half of the pumped water was lost to leaky pipes. Only 20 percent of Iraq’s population, mostly in Baghdad, had access to closed sewage systems. Most of Iraq’s 192 state run industries are run at a loss. In 1995 Saddam began a system of food rationing. The food subsidies cost the government $3 billion a year. All in all subsidies gobbled down 65 to 75 percent of all state revenues. Only 8 percent of government funds were channeled through the Ministry of Finance. To cover government expenditures Saddam printed more money. At the end of 2002 annual inflation was running at over 100,000 percent and unemployment was at 50 percent. Hyperinflation hit the middle classes and civil servants particularly hard. It is estimated that there were about 1.5 million civil servants who had not been paid since the start of the war in mid March.
To address the unemployment the CPA embarked on a massive public works programs to primarily clear 20,000 kilometers of canals creating more than 100,000 jobs. The CPA raised health care spending by 3,200 percent and doctor’s monthly salaries by 800 percent and ordered the purchase and distribution of over 22 million doses of vaccines for children. Teacher’s salaries were increased from $3 to $150 a month and textbooks and curricula were purged of Baathist propaganda. CPA experts identified dozens of urgent projects to improve water systems, telecommunications, ports and electricity. There were about 4-5 billion dollar equivalent of Saddam and Swiss dinars on the streets. Based on this calculation it was believed that the CPA would need to print and distribute about 2,200 tons of new dinars and collect and destroy some 2,800 tons of old dinars, an estimate that turned out to be dramatically low.
UN Security Council Resolution 1483 of May 22, 2003 called on the Coalition to work with a new special representative of the UN to “facilitate a process leading to an internationally recognized, representative government of Iraq.” All the Iraqi’s consulted agreed that a new constitution was vital. Most of them referred to the country’s original 1925 constitution. Then, a selected group of about one hundred, mainly Sunnis, had written the document, which had been approved in a referendum. The G-7 proved unable to tolerate any diffusion of their power. In June the pretender to the long extinct throne of Iraq returned. Created by the British in the 1920s the Hashemite family, which still rules Jordan, ruled Iraq until a bloody coup d’etat in 1958. Sharif ali bin Hussein was a well dressed man in his late forties who returned to Baghdad on a private jet with a retinue of seventy. Sharif Ali agreed the G-7 was unrepresentative and that early elections were neither possible nor wise.
The tribes of Iraq reflect Mesopotamia’s ancient civilizations. A tribe can have both Sunni and Shiite members, and in some cases, members of different ethnic groups. Iraqi tribes are a paradox in other ways. On the surface, they would appear to be relatively unimportant because more than 70 percent of Iraqi’s population lives in urban areas. Tribal leaders have less authority than they did when the British occupied the country eighty ears ago. Nonetheless, tribes still play an important role in the social and political life of the country. Even Iraqis who have been city dwellers for several generations need little encouragement to discuss their tribal ancestry. Many still proudly proclaim their tribe’s roots as their official last name. It was assumed that the Shia would have to be a majority of the Council since they were believed to make up 60 percent of the population. It had to be ensured that women were well represented. Effective patriotic Sunni members also needed to be found. By midafternoon Saturday, July 12, twenty five members had been selected for the Council.
The While House went to Congress to ask for the supplemental appropriation and Secretary Powell and Ambassador Bremer attended a conference the UN has called for October to solicit international donations to Iraq’s reconstruction. Oil revenues alone were not going to cover Iraq’s governmental expenses. The World Bank did a quick assessment and concluded that Iraq needed $55-75 billion for reconstruction. The Treasury estimated that Iraq had about $120 billion in outstanding debt, six times the GDP.
In a new address Paul Bremer said, The Prophet Jeremiah told us, “For surely I know the plans I have for you says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future of hope”. There is, before all Iraqis, a future of hope. You will live in dignity. You will live in peace. You will live in prosperity. You will live in the quiet enjoyment of family, of friends, and of a decent income honestly earned. You will live in an Iraq governed by and for the people of Iraq. These things will come to pass. Dignity is hard to maintain when foreign troops, no matter how well intentioned, walk your streets. In the months ahead you will see fewer troops. In time, the foreign soldiers will be replaced by a New Iraqi Army dedicated not to a single man, not to a single party, but to a constitution approved by you. Peace is hard to imagine when a quarter of century of continuous conflict has seared the memory of all Iraqis. But freedom from a tyrant bent on foreign adventure will bring peace, peace with your neighbors and peace with the world. Repair and expansion of the infrastructure, coupled with your own intelligence, your own energy and our own perseverance will realize prosperity. For the enjoyment of family and friends 100,000 jobs will created. Together the Iraqi people will recreate a magnificent country, one that you will be proud of to bequeath to your children and grandchildren.
The UN was holding billions of dollars which belonged to the Iraqi people. By August 19, 2003 the Iraqi ministries had validated more than 2,500 contracts worth billions of dollars for badly needed goods and services. The UN had authorized exactly one contract in that same time. At this time there was a large explosion at the UN compound in eastern Baghdad. The compound was virtually destroyed. A truck bomb, delivered by a suicide attacker, had detonated just below de Mello’s office, collapsing the entire corner of the building.
On July 22 General Sanchez confirmed that Saddam’s sons, Uday and his younger brother Qusay were dead. On Saturday December 13 Saddam Hussein himself was captured at around 8:30 pm local in a cellar in the town of Ad-Dwar, some fifteen kilometers south of Tikrit. Bremer said, “This is a great day in your history. For decades, hundreds of thousands of you suffered at the hands of this cruel man”. The arrest went off without a hitch, no injuries, not a single had been fired.
It was clear something had to be done about the militias that had evolved out of Kurdish and Shiite resistance to Saddam. There were an estimated 60,000-100,000 fighters belonging to nine groups, each attached to a political party. All military forces had to be under central government control. In theory, militias could be dealt with militarily, it was however unrealistic to think that the Coalition was going to attack its recent Iraqi allies. That left only one realistic option, to come up with a plan for a phased demobilization and reintegration into society of the militiamen. At least 50,000 of the militia belonged to the Kurdish Peshmerga who had fought alongside the Coalition to defeat Saddam. Because Kurdistan faced security threats the CPA did not want to disband the Peshmerga completely. Rather the aim was to bring a large number of them under the control of the national and regional governments.
On November 4 President Bush signed into law and $18.6 billion supplemental appropriation for Iraqi reconstruction. The political imperative of the CPA was to make progress on development plans starting with a $500 million quick dispensing fund. Funding was anything but quick. The bureaucracy in Washington imposed a rigid interpretation of the regulations on letting contracts which already required long lead times. The bureaucratic logjam was frustrating to five thousand projects already identified.
The Transitional Administrative Law (TAL) reflects a careful balance of competing interests, hopes and fears among Iraqis. The document was ratified on International Women’s Day March 8. Bremer told the audience at the opening of one of nine women’s centers, “The TAL requires Iraq electoral law to guarantee that 25 percent of Iraq’s parliament be women, one of the highest percentages in the world.” Although the document was unanimously ratified by the Governing Council it was highly opposed by Sistani. Fully 31 percent of the deputies elected were women.
On April 23 Bremer said for the television, Iraq faces a choice. You could take the path which leads to a new Iraq, a peaceful, democratic Iraq, an Iraq of political freedom and economic opportunity, an Iraq where the majority is not Sunni, Shia, Arab, Kurd or Turkmen, but Iraqi. This is the path to a bright and hopeful future. Or you could take the path which to the dark Iraq of the past where violence and fear rule, where power comes from a gun, and where only the powerful and ruthless are secure…Thousands of coversations with you over the past year have made me certain that the vast majority of Iraqis reject the brutality and darkness of the old days. You have told me you want a new Iraq that honors the best of your past, but provides freedom, equality, and opportunity for all. The Coalition shares your vision of Iraq’s future, a future of hope. Working together we can create the future you want.
Brown, Sherrod. Congress from the Inside: Observations from the Majority and the Minority. Third Edition. Kent State University Press. 2004
Thank you for all you do for public health and what you will do in another area of public service. Sherrod 1/10/06
Sherrod Brown has represented Ohio 13th Congressional district since 1992, after having served for two decades as a state politician, initially in the Ohio legislature and then as Ohio’s Secretary of State. In 2006 Brown was elected to the Senate.
Health care costs the American people $900 billion annually, costs were increasing twice the rate of inflation. In 1965 federal spending on health made up only about 4 percent of the federal budget, that number by 1993, had jumped to 20 percent (84).
They were careless people…They smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together and let other people clean up the mess they had made. F. Scot Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
A population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious conversation becomes a form of baby talk, when in short, people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act. Aldous Huxley, Brave New World.
Trade like capitalism, can create great wealth for the world’s people. The economic benefits of trade, unfortunately, have not trickled down to the world’s poorest people. The massive wealth that has been generated by trade has not enabled them to afford of receive medical care. In 1960, before globalization, the most affluent 20 percent of the world’s population were thirty times richer than the poorest 20 percent. In 1997, at the height of globalization, the most fortunate were seventy-four times richer than the world’s poorest. The combined fortunes of the four hundred richest people in the world equals more than the annual income of the poorest 50 percent of the world’s people.
Maltzman, Forrest. Competing Principles: Committees, Parties, and the Organization of Congress. Ann Arbor. University of Michigan Press. 1997