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Bremer departs, leaves behind mixed record

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Last summer, on one of his heavily guarded trips to the Iraqi provinces, then-U.S. Administrator L. Paul Bremer visited a maternity hospital in the southern town of Diwaniyah.

Speaking to the doctors and dignitaries, Bremer began reciting the increase in the amount of drugs his Coalition Provisional Authority had shipped into the country.

As he talked, a young nurse lamented to a pair of reporters that since the war, it had become too dangerous for her to walk home from work. She added that the hospital often didn't have electricity. Later, when Bremer visited the wards, he grimaced at their dismal, dirty condition.

As Bremer returned power to Iraqis and flew out of the country for good Monday, Iraq's streets remain dangerous, its electricity sporadic, its hospitals filthy and underequipped.

Few would blame Bremer for that. He was given the impossible job of trying to manage the ill-planned occupation and reconstruction of a country of 26 million people. He worked 18 hours a day, seven days a week, for 13 months away from his family, knowing that insurgents were plotting to kill him.

But critics say the U.S. soldiers' nickname for the CPA—Can't Produce Anything—was apt, because Bremer presided over a sluggish behemoth staffed in part by people whose political credentials were more solid than their expertise in the subject.

"By insulating himself and by creating a bureaucracy that favored memo-writing over interaction with Iraqis, Bremer isolated the CPA to the point of irrelevance," said Michael Rubin, a former CPA governance official who's now a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative policy research organization in Washington.

"Crippled by a severe shortage of American officials fluent in Arabic ... and distanced from Iraqi society by formidable walls of security, the CPA never adequately grasped Iraqi preferences, hopes and frustrations," wrote Larry Diamond, another former CPA official who's a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, a conservative policy research organization at Stanford University.

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David Mack, a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq who thinks Bremer did a decent job under awful circumstances, nevertheless said Bremer was a poor manager.

"In the end Bremer was making a tremendous number of decisions that were coming up to him from individual parts of this huge, hydra-headed organization without getting the benefit of the wisdom of other parts," said Mack, who directs the Washington-based Middle East Institute.

Bremer ordered the Iraqi army disbanded and all senior-level members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party fired, decisions he had to partially reverse in recent months as it became clear they were bad for security. But by most accounts, those moves originated with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

The Pentagon thought the United States would arrive to find a mostly moderate citizenry aching for democracy. What it got was a violent, lawless, rivalrous society coursing with Islamic extremism.

When the insurgency kicked up, Bremer and his aides had to hunker down in the tightly guarded Green Zone, isolated from the people they were trying to win over.

Bremer had some victories. He convinced Washington that billions of reconstruction dollars would be needed. He put in place laws and economic policies that will help Iraq attract foreign investment if the security situation improves. He forced through a temporary constitution that's unparalleled in the region for its human rights guarantees.

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Bremer, a 62-year-old former marathon runner, acknowledged some second thoughts.

"I think my biggest regret is that we were not able to mobilize a lot of the heavy-duty reconstruction work more quickly," he said on CNN as he prepared to leave. "I think we focused too much on building up numbers in the security forces without concentrating enough on quality, particularly in the police."

In an interview Monday with Knight Ridder, Iraqi President Ghazi al-Yawer was asked about Bremer's tenure.

"Mr. Bremer was an administrator," he said. "He was serving in an extraordinary circumstance. We are from the Iraqi people."

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(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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