Power slips from hands of US pro-consul

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The Independent US

He had been touted as a future secretary of state. But in just five days' time, Paul Bremer will be stepping down as America's proconsul in Iraq, to contemplate a more restful, but none the less uncertain future.

He had been touted as a future secretary of state. But in just five days' time, Paul Bremer will be stepping down as America's proconsul in Iraq, to contemplate a more restful, but none the less uncertain future.

In the last few weeks, the 62-year-old former diplomat known as "Jerry" has quietly passed on much power to the new interim government led by the prime minister, Iyad Allawi. Before that however, as head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), he was the man who ran Iraq.

With the formal transfer of sovereignty to the new Iraqi government, ahead of elections to a constituent assembly planned for next January, the CPA will disappear. In its place will be the largest US embassy in the world, with 3,000 staff reporting to the new ambassador John Negroponte, formerly Washington's envoy to the United Nations in New York.

Despite the massive task awaiting him, Mr Negroponte's swearing-in ceremony this week was a resolutely upbeat affair. For the State Department, his arrival in Baghdad means that it will at last gain control over US policy in Iraq after 15 months in which an ever more criticised Pentagon has run matters.

In theory, Washington's new man in Baghdad will be an ambassador like any other, tending to relations with an independent and fully sovereign state.

In practice, given the continuing presence of 140,000 American troops to provide security, Mr Negroponte will wield enormous clout.

But the institutional set-up will be very different. Mr Bremer may have been a former US ambassador, with a 23-year State Department career behind him. But, despite his lack of a military background, his office was a branch of the Pentagon. Ever since he landed in Baghdad in May 2003, he has reported to Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary, and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz.

He has been an instantly recognisable figure, always smartly dressed in shirt and tie despite the blazing summer heat, his only concession to his surroundings a pair of pale beige military-style boots.

Taken overall, Iraq has not enhanced Mr Bremer's reputation. He alone cannot be blamed for the spiralling violence on the ground, and the failure to provide ordinary Iraqis with security. His resoluteness and decisiveness are much praised.

Early on however, he made what are now universally acknowledged to have been two huge mistakes.He disbanded the former Iraqi army in its entirety, and purged Baath party members from their jobs in ministries, schools and universities.

As the security situation deteriorated, he became an ever more remote figure, protected by a security cordon that cut off virtually all contact with the local population.

With Colin Powell's departure considered certain whatever happens in November, Mr Bremer was at one point seen as a likely successor at the State Department. That is now a less likely proposition, even if George Bush does win a second term.

In an interview in the latest issue of Time magazine, Mr Bremer paints a modest picture of his future. He intends to leave public life, he says, in order to write a book and enrol at a cooking academy in Washington DC.

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