Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Review My Year in Iraq, The Struggle to Build a Future of Hope

Bremer, Ambassador Paul L., My Year in Iraq, The Struggle to Build a Future of Hope, New York, London, Toronto, Sydney: Threshold Editions, 2006


My Year in Iraq, The Struggle to Build a Future of Hope is Paul Bremer’s attempt to claim that he successfully set Iraq on the right path while he was the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) from 2003-04. The book is full of contradictions on some of Bremer’s major decisions and actually shows that he failed at all the issues he said were the most important for Iraq’s future.


The first thing that stands out about the book is that Bremer got rid of his predecessors and then said he intimately knew what Iraqis wanted. First, he admits that he knew nothing about Iraq and yet he was selected to run the country by the Pentagon. When he assembled his staff he only picked one person that knew the Arab world and spoke Arabic. The second thing he did was get rid of Zalmay Khalizad who was President’s Bush’s envoy to the Iraqi opposition and he was the replacement for Jay Garner who was originally responsible for Iraq meaning Bremer didn’t want the advice of people that had been working on Iraq longer then he had. Next he consistently claimed that he knew the pulse of Iraqi public opinion and what they wanted. Where this knowledge came from as he didn’t know the country and got rid of the people more experienced than him was never explained. It showed a level of hubris that would categorize much of what the U.S. did when it occupied Iraq.


Next Bremer lays out what he didn’t want to happen with deBaathifiaction and disbanding the Iraqi military and then how he did just that. Banning the Baath Party came from the Pentagon and was worked upon even before Bremer got his job. He claims it was only going to remove the top four levels of the Baath Party which was less than 20,000 people because many of them had fled the country after the invasion. He contradicts himself by saying that Americans were working with top Baathists to get the government and ministries working again and was warned that they would all be dismissed by Bremer’s order. He also notes that the top three levels of every government bureaucracy in the country from state owned enterprises to hospitals to schools would be removed as well, which was not the same thing as the top four levels of Baathists. Both meant far more than 20,000 would lose their jobs and they would be very bitter about the American occupation. It also stagnated the effort to get the Iraqi government back up and running because the administrators the U.S. was depending upon were now banned. His second order was dismissing the Iraqi military. The U.S. was working on bringing back army units, but Bremer said that wasn’t possible because the conscripts were mostly Shiites who would were mistreated by their officers and saw the institution as oppressive. He said an alternative would have been vetting the soldiers and bringing back those that weren’t top Baathists and hadn’t committed crimes but then says that wasn’t possible because too few would pass. Then he writes that everything he said couldn’t happen did. Tons of ex-soldiers applied for jobs in the new security forces and almost every officer came from Saddam’s army. This was a no win situation because the Kurdish parties and the Shiite Islamist exile parties were against bringing back the old army since they did associate it with Saddam Hussein. At the same time disbanding the organization along with deBaathification fueled the insurgency. These were both difficult decisions but the book portrays Bremer as someone that didn’t know what he was doing. His writer Malcolm McConnell who actually penned the book also let him contradict himself again and again many times on the same page.


Next, Bremer fails to mention that his political and economic plans were rejected and failed. Bremer originally envisioned a long U.S. occupation lasting until 2005 to build the political institutions that would ensure a democracy. That meant he didn’t believe the country was capable of elections because there were no laws, few political parties, etc. The White House and the leading Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani objected to these ideas. The Bush administration didn’t want to stay in Iraq that long and got Bremer to agree to end the CPA in June 2004. Sistani got Bremer to agree on elections in 2005. Bremer said he didn’t want the Shiite Islamist parties or the Iraqi Governing Council which the CPA created to take power because the former were a threat to a secular democracy and the latter had little support within the country and were incompetent. They struggled to carry out basic tasks the CPA asked of them and most of them were out of the country during any given month. Yet the two Kurdish and two Shiite religious parties who were on the council did take over the country after the 2005 vote. Finally, in the Afterward he claimed that the Americans created a free market economy in Iraq. The state actually dominates and the private sector is very small. Bremer largely ignores all of these issues because the point of the book was to paint him as a success.


Despite all of the problems with My Year In Iraq it is still a worthwhile read. It shows what Bremer’s goals were in Iraq and all the problems he ran into. There are plenty of details in the day to day discussions and arguments he got into over implementing his political plan which is the focus of the book. Ultimately it shows how his ego was tempered by the realities of Iraq even though he would never admit that.


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