L. Paul Bremer Comes to Grand Rapids: A Critical Look at his Record

In advance of former head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) L. Paul Bremer’s vist, Media Mouse examined his record in Iraq.


L. Paul Bremer took over as the head of the so-called “Coalition Provisional Authority” in Iraq in May of 2003 after the dismissal of Jay Garner from said post. Garner, who was dismissed after clashing with the Bush administration over plans privatization and elections, was replaced by Bremer, a neoconservative ideologue with a history of supporting ultra-conservative causes and championing Republican administrations.

Bremer has spent much of his career working at right-wing foundations and “think tanks,” with much of his time spent crafting policies designed to fight “terrorism” and releasing lengthy position papers advocating that the United States take a stronger position against “terrorism,” including military action against Iran. Bremer has worked both in the private and public sectors in positions focusing on terrorism, including work as Ambassador-at-Large for Counter-Terrorism from 1986 to 1989 and as an advisor on President George W. Bush’s Homeland Security Advisory Council. Bremer also serves on multiple corporate boards and is a neo-liberalist who embraces free-market capitalism and privatization.

Bremer as the Dictator of Iraq

Lakhdar Brahimi, a United Nations official given the task of evaluating the prospects of holding elections in Iraq, referred to Paul Bremer as the “Dictator of Iraq” after working alongside Bremer for months. Brahimi concluded that nothing in Iraq happens without Bremer’s approval, stating that “He [Bremer] has the money. He has the signature,” describing what was nearly absolute authority exercised by Bremer while Bremer administered the United States presence in Iraq. Iraqis on the street frequently expressed their hatred of Bremer charging that “He doesn’t listen to Iraqis. He doesn’t know anything about Iraq. He destroyed the country and tried to rebuild it again, and now we are in chaos”–hardly the praise for the United States presence that ideologues like Bremer claim to hear daily. Instead, many Iraqis were outraged by Bremer’s absolute control, which extended even to the point of shutting down independent newspapers.

In addition to the control exercised by Bremer prior to the United States “transfer of sovereignty,” Bremer also issued a series of orders that allowed the United States to maintain significant control of Iraq’s government after the “transfer of sovereignty,” with many of the orders focusing on economic matters. Bremer passed laws opening Iraq’s economy to foreign ownership and cannot be changed by the new government under provisions of the interim Iraqi constitution. Bremer assigned “independent” regulators to Iraqi government ministries which will serve to veto ministry decisions such as Communications Minister Haider al-Abadi’s desire to cancel licenses to foreign-managed companies operating mobile phone networks and television stations. Moreover, the $18.4 billion set aside by the United States for the “reconstruction” of Iraq will be administered by the US Embassy in Iraq and not the Iraqis affected by the spending. The military will also remain under the control of the United States–the Iraqi government will answer to Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez of the United States Army until the “completion of the political process” in Iraq as stipulated in United Nations Resolution 1511. The CPA also appointed a National Security Advisor in Iraq, who with a five year term, will exercise US influence for years to come.

Privitization and Corporate Control in Iraq

Prior to the invasion of Iraq, Bremer provided a statement foreshadowing his work as head of the CPA:

We’re going to be on the ground in Iraq as soldiers and citizens for years. We’re going to be running a colony almost. (source)

The statement is indicative of the type of climate Bremer established for corporations in Iraq. From the outset Bremer made it his goal to both privatize public services in Iraq and create a climate that would encourage corporate investment at the expense of other concerns such as workers’ rights. Under the guise of “de-Ba’athification,” Bremer dismissed 30,000 Ba?ath Party officials from their jobs a move that was in actuality a way of “downsizing” public services in Iraq, creating a space where private corporations had to come into fill the void left by the absence of public workers. Bremer made no secret about his intention to privatize the Iraqi state industries–a Washington Post reporter recalled Bremer by saying that “Bremer discussed the need to privatize government-run factories with such fervor that his voice cut through the din of the cargo hold” of the plane they were travelling in; Bremer considers his major achievements in Iraq to reduced tax rates, reduced tariffs, and the liberalization of foreign investment laws.

Mismanagement of Iraq’s Economy

As a result of his efforts to create a free-market fantasy world in Iraq, Bremer also severely mismanaged his reconstruction of Iraq’s economy. The CPA spent only $3.2 billion of the $18.4 billion set aside by the Untied States for reconstruction. Iraqi oil revenues, which were supposed to be used for Iraqi projects, were spent on projects that were supposed to be paid for by United States money. The CPA has provided little documentation of its spending of $20 billion in Iraqi oil revenues and failed to create UN mandated auditing roles. Moreover, the Development Fund for Iraq, setup by the CPA to manage development in Iraq failed to account for its allocation of money–even going so far as to make line items of $7.4 billion with no mention of where the money was going and for what purpose. Rather than reconstruction, Iraqis saw a systematic transfer of the country’s assets from Iraqi hands to those of foreign corporations.

The Illegal Occupation of Iraq

As head of the CPA, Bremer presided over the illegal occupation of Iraq. While Bremer was making decisions in an undemocratic manner, the very occupation was illegal, and by extension, Bremer qualifies as a war criminal. The Center for Economic and Social Rights released an extensive report documenting the ways the occupation of Iraq violated international law and many of the sections refer specifically to areas in which Bremer had direct involvement–the failure to provide public order and safety, the failure to ensure vital services, and fundamental changes in the economy. Bremer’s economic reforms themselves were illegal violating the Hague regulations of 1907 and the US Army’s own code of war.

Moreover, during Bremer’s time as head of the CPA Iraqi civilians continued to be targeted and killed by the United States, with the total number of civilian deaths for the whole war and occupation period exceeding 11,000.

In Bremer’s own Words

In his numerous public appearances, Paul Bremer has made a number of noteworthy statements:

Bremer on the Colonization of Iraq:

“We’re going to be on the ground in Iraq as soldiers and citizens for years. We’re going to be running a colony almost.”

Bremer on US Iraq Policy in the 1980s:

And I think the general attitude in our [the Reagan] government was to let the Iraqis kill the Iranians. That seemed like a pretty good way to deal with the problem [of the Iraq-Iranian War].”

Bremer on “military control” of civilians:

“The National Commission on Terrorism, created by Congress two years ago, recently released its recommendations, including placing the military in charge of controlling civilians after a terrorist attack. “We’re not recommending martial law,” said commission chairman L. Paul Bremer. “we’re just recommending military control. There’s a big difference there, at least five letters worth of difference. It’s not the same thing at all.”

Bremer on the use of informants:

“We feel that ‘unsavoury sources’ and ‘thugs’ does these folks a disservice. We prefer to think of these job applicants as simply good kids gone bad. We feel that the CIA can play a rehabilative role in American society.”

Author: mediamouse

Grand Rapids independent media // mediamouse.org