BAGHDAD, Iraq – The new American civilian administrator took over the task of piecing Iraq together Monday amid a change in key posts responsible for guiding it toward democracy.
“We intend to have a very effective, efficient and well-organized hand-over,” L. Paul Bremer said as he arrived at Baghdad International Airport.
Bremer traveled with Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the man Bremer is replacing as the senior American civilian in Iraq, retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner.
“General Garner and I are pledged to working very close together,” said Bremer. “I don’t anticipate any problems with any of the changes that are ongoing.”
Bremer’s arrival reflects a turn to new leadership at the top as the civilian reconstruction agency makes inroads to restore law and order (news – Y! TV) and government functions, even as many ordinary Iraqis complain about persistent insecurity and the slow pace of resuming basic services like power and water.
“It’s a wonderful challenge to help the Iraqi people basically reclaim their country from a despotic regime,” Bremer said in a tarmac interview minutes after his plane landed in Basra.
He spent a short while in the southern city before flying to Baghdad, where the civilian reconstruction agency is headquartered.
Asked whether he was, in effect, directing a U.S. plan to colonize Iraq, Bremer said: “The coalition did not come to colonize Iraq. We came to overthrow a despotic regime. That we have done. Now our job is to turn and help the Iraqi people regain control of their own destiny.”
Attempting to smooth over implications that his replacement of Garner represented a shifting policy, Bremer said in Basra, “I also want to say how proud I am of the work my good friend Jay Garner and the people who are working for him, how proud I am of everything they have done here in the last couple of weeks under extraordinary circumstances.”
Reacting to reports that Garner would be leaving the country earlier than originally planned, Bremer said, “I certainly intend to work with him in the next weeks here to get a bunch of serious milestones accomplished.”
Standing beside Bremer, Garner said the reports that he would be leaving early are “not true.”
“What I say we have here is one team, one fight,” said Garner. “We’ll drive on.”
Bremer said former U.S. ambassador Barbara Bodine, who was coordinator for central Iraq, including Baghdad, within the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, was being reassigned back to Washington by the State Department “for their own reasons.”
The New York Times, citing unidentified administration officials, reported in Monday’s editions that four other officials under Garner were also expected to leave soon: Margaret Tutwiler, who had been head of communications; Tim Carney, who had been overseeing Iraq’s Ministry of Industry and Minerals; David Dunford, a senior Middle East expert; and John Limbert, the ambassador to Mauritania.
Neither Bremer nor Garner commented on that report, but Tutwiler told a reporter the plan from the beginning was for her to be in Iraq for one month, until May 15, and then return to her post as ambassador to Morocco.
Following the U.S.-issued decree on Sunday dissolving Saddam Hussein (news – web sites)’s Baath Party, Bremer was said to be considering issuing additional orders dissolving Saddam’s former defense and security apparatus, including the Republican Guard and the Special Republican Guard that were loyal to him.
Myers alluded to these next steps in ridding Iraq of all vestiges of the ousted regime.
“There is absolutely no chance that Saddam Hussein and his Baathist Party or those who are following Saddam Hussein are ever going to come to power again in Iraq,” Myers said.
Bremer, 61, is a onetime assistant to former Secretaries of State William P. Rogers and Henry Kissinger and was ambassador-at-large for counterterrorism from 1986 to 1989.
In Basra, Bremer was meeting with British officials who are responsible for establishing order in the city. Myers was meeting with British commanders and having lunch with their troops. In some respects, including the availability of electric power, Basra is further along in recovery than is Baghdad.
In Qatar on Sunday, Myers said the U.S. military is pulling out of one Qatari air base and upgrading another.
The moves reflect the suddenly changed circumstances for American forces since the demise of the Saddam regime.
Myers told troops at Qatar that the American presence at an air base called Camp Snoopy would “go away” soon. Snoopy served as a logistics hub for U.S. military operations in the Gulf region.