- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 30, 2004

President Bush and L. Paul Bremer, former U.S. administrator of Iraq, met with Iraqi Americans yesterday to discuss progress in the 14 months since that country was liberated.

Although Mr. Bremer transferred sovereignty to Iraq on Monday, he said U.S. forces would maintain physical custody of Saddam Hussein for the foreseeable future, but not because the United States is worried about insurgents springing the former Iraqi dictator from jail.

“The more likely scenario is that a bunch of people who want to kill him take him over and hack him to pieces,” Mr. Bremer told NBC on the South Lawn of the White House. “That’s a much more likely scenario, and we don’t want that to happen.”

Mr. Bremer left Iraq immediately after dissolving the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and formally ending America’s occupation on Monday, two days ahead of schedule. Yesterday, he acknowledged not knowing whether he would survive his departure.

“I wanted to get out of that airspace safely,” he said. “We’ve had a number of planes hit, including one of the people who works for the CPA killed flying out the night before.”

Mr. Bremer also acknowledged that U.S. authorities had a slow start in establishing security in postwar Iraq.

“Obviously, it would have been better if we could have had more security sooner; no question about that,” he said.

“But if you look at what was accomplished and how much the country has changed for the better,” he added, “the young Americans who gave their lives there gave them for a noble cause.”

Before having lunch with the president in the White House, the two men walked across the street to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building to pay an unscheduled private visit to a meeting of 150 Iraqi Americans. Mr. Bush gave a short speech to the enthusiastic gathering.

“The president emphasized that our will is unshakable and that the terrorists will not prevail,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. “The president said we will never retreat in the face of terrorism.

“And he talked about the progress that we have made in just 14 months in Iraq,” he added. “He also firmly stated our commitment to help the Iraqi people complete the mission of a free and peaceful Iraq.”

One of the first steps in that mission is the public trial of Saddam on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.

“This is an extraordinarily important thing for all Iraqis,” Mr. Bremer said. “It symbolizes how much better this country is today than it was a year ago when Saddam and his tyrants still had their hands at the throats of the Iraqi people.

“They are going to be very pleased to see him stand trial,” he added.

Mr. Bremer told CBS that the top priority for Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s new government is establishing better security.

“They must get security down to a level where the violence allows them to go forward with elections in January,” he said. “And I’m confident they will.

“The prime minister is a tough guy, a survivor of a brutal assassination attempt by Saddam Hussein 30 years ago,” he added. “[He] spent a year in hospital after being axed in the middle of the night.”

Mr. Bremer predicted long-term success for Iraq.

“It will certainly be a pluralistic society,” he said. “It will not be an American-style democracy; it will be Iraqi-style.

“I think it will be a successful country, and I think it will be quite an example for other countries in the region,” he added.

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