Paul Bremer on Iraq, ten years on: 'We made major strategic mistakes. But I still think Iraqis are far better off'

Ten years on,  Paul Bremer recalls Iraq’s  descent into chaos and the fight to restore order

Paul Bremer, who ran Iraq for 14 months after Allied forces invaded 10 years ago tomorrow, today said that strategic military blunders had seriously hindered his efforts to contain the insurgency in Iraq and had cost Coalition and Iraqi lives.

In a revealing interview in his Maryland home, Mr Bremer spoke out about what he said was his own personal battle - against his country's top brass. He said a post-Vietnam complex had led US generals to fight a war against insurgents through an ineffective "whack-a-mole" policy. It had been based on a misconceived military doctrine and it was being fought with woefully small numbers of troops.

"It was a major strategic mistake. And it was knowable at the time," he said. Mr Bremer said he had urged President George W Bush and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to send double the number of troops. It took another four years, he said, before the right approach was put in place through the Bush-authorised "surge" - and the uprisings and civil strife around Iraq were properly dealt with.

Alongside him as we spoke in his basement study were photographs that told the story of his life: himself as a young Marine; with President Bush; him and his family with the Pope. "I did not expect such violence to break out after we arrived," Mr Bremer said. "I assumed we would have adequate forces on the ground. We should have learned from Bosnia and Somalia that you have to have sufficient force on the ground to protect the people."

He said the US leadership should have taken the advice of a think-tank that had urged 400,000 troops be deployed, not 180,000. The shortage of forces had "a double-barrelled effect. The insurgents concluded that we were not prepared to ... provide security. And a lot of the Iraqi people came to the same conclusion, and started to hedge their belief in the success of the occupation. We only got an appropriate strategy when General Petreus produced a new army doctrine [in 2007]."

To his critics, Mr Bremer bears a significant share of responsibility for Iraq's descent into chaos, immediately instituting a series of measures which, the critics claim, destabilised an already fragile security situation. The first orders he issued as the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority were to ban members of the Ba'ath Party from holding public office, and to disband the Iraqi army.

Within months one of the bloodiest insurgencies in modern times was under way. There were also accusations of massive financial mismanagement. In 2005 a US administration report discovered that around $9bn allocated for reconstruction had disappeared. There was not, however, any suggestion that Mr Bremer was personally culpable for this.

Today, a decade on from the invasion, Mr Bremer strongly defends his decisions. "We took opinion polls... De-Baathification never polled below 95 per cent approval. The mistake I made was to turn this over to a small group of Iraqi politicians, and they then broadened it. I think that hurt us because it gave the impression that we were prepared to carry out a really wholesale De-Baathification of the entire society. And that was clearly not our intention."

He also stressed the decision to disband the army was approved by the British and US governments before he issued his famous decree, and admits to other shortcomings - especially his regime's failure to get the country going again. "To defeat insurgency you have to defeat them but also improve lives... clear, secure and build. We never really got the first phase done - securing the population, especially in large urban areas."

Mr Bremer says the failures of American and British policies in Iraq gave an opening to Iran to expand its influence. Feeling the US was in disarray in Iraq, the Iranians became confident they could resume their nuclear programme without serious repercussions, he said. He now says the US and Britain pulled out all their forces too quickly, creating new dangers. In a thinly veiled attack on the new US doctrine of withdrawal espoused by President Obama, Mr Bremer said: "It was a mistake. We should have left troops in Iraq - absolutely yes. That was the recommendation of the American commanders."

As for himself, he was deeply relieved when his 14-month term of rule in Iraq came to an end. "When I left it felt good to get out. My staff and I still call 28 June 2004 our Liberation Day. I said to the new Iraq leaders: You have your republic - now make it work."

Mr Bremer has dedicated his life since then mainly to helping with sports charities. He organised a 4,000-mile trek by bicycle across America - in the company of 16 former soldiers injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some may have been crippled because of the military strategy he criticises. But he feels the removal of Saddam and the new regime was on balance better for Iraq than to have left the dictator in power. "The average income per head is six times what it was under Saddam. The violence, even though it is high by Western standards, is lower than it was. And I still think Iraqis are far better off."

Paul Bremer: in his own words

"We should have learned from Bosnia, Somalia, and Libya ... You have to have sufficient force on the ground to protect the people. We did not solve that problem until Bush made the courageous decision to Surge in 2007. I believe it led to increased casualties – among the Iraqi people and of course among the Coalition forces."

"We lacked an appropriate counter-insurgency strategy."

"The average income per head is six time what it was under Saddam. There is potable water, telephones, access to white goods, satellite and cable TV. The violence, even though it is high by Western standards, is lower than it was. And I still think Iraqis are far better off."

Paul Martin: conflictzones@gmail.com 

Suggested Topics
News
people And here is why...
Voices
voicesBy the man who has
Sport
Arsene Wenger tried to sign Eden Hazard
footballAfter 18 years with Arsenal, here are 18 things he has still never done as the Gunners' manager
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
tech
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson star in The Twilight Saga but will not be starring in the new Facebook mini-movies
tvKristen Stewart and Stephenie Meyer will choose female directrs
News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
books(and not a Buzzfeed article in sight)
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
Arts and Entertainment
Twerking girls: Miley Cyrus's video for 'Wrecking Ball'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran performs at his Amazon Front Row event on Tuesday 30 September
musicHe spotted PM at private gig
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
News
Kim Jong Un gives field guidance during his inspection of the Korean People's Army (KPA) Naval Unit 167
newsSouth Korean reports suggest rumours of a coup were unfounded
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Teacher of English

£121 - £140 per day + AWR: Randstad Education Luton: ENGLISH TEACHER REQUIREDW...

Senior Infrastructure Engineer - Server, Networks

£40000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Infrastructure En...

Primary Supply Teacher

£115 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Primary supply teacher Hertford...

Teaching Assistant

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Luton: We are currently looking for pass...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?