The war in Iraq is officially over and the last troops have pulled out of the country after a nearly nine-year long conflict.
Many of the architects and officials that were a part of the war are now looking back and reflecting on whether it was worth it, and if perhaps the ending of the war came too soon.
In May 2003, President George W. Bush sent Ambassador Paul Bremer to Iraq to head up the Coalition Provisional Authority. For the next year, he would be the main authority in the country.
Bremer remains one of the most controversial figures of that time, ordering the disbanding of the Iraqi army and pushed for de-Baathification, the process of rooting out former Baath party members from the new Iraqi government.
Speaking with weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz, Bremer believes the pull out is premature and that the situation there is still quite fragile.
Of his decision to disband the Iraqi army, often seen as a catalyst for the rise of the insurgency in Iraq, Bremer says it was absolutely the right choice.
“I’ve never seen any persuasive evidence that suggests otherwise. The fact of the matter is there was no Iraqi military when I arrived … so reconstituting the army would have meant several things. First of all, we would have had to take American troops, of whom we already had too few, and send them into villages and farms to force Shia conscripts back into an army they hated under Sunni officers who basically brutalized them. So the concept of reconstituting the army had virtually no political support.”
Bremer says a little-known fact is that that every conscript was paid a separation fee and every officer a pension. So the notion that there were suddenly a bunch of people on the streets with no money is simply “flat wrong,” he says.
One of Bremer’s chief criticisms of the war is that he thought the U.S. needed more troops in Iraq. Why that was never done, he’s says he’s not sure.
“The president asked military commanders in my presence dozens of times during the 14 months I was there … I never heard a general ask for more troops. You can ask yourself the question: why didn’t they think they needed more troops? I don’t have an answer to that, all I can tell you is the fact is they didn’t ask for more troops. I thought they needed more troops and a better strategy and I said so.”
As the military enterprise in Iraq ends, Bremer says it is a bittersweet moment for him and recalled some of the great moments of the war and the difficult times.
“There were great moments: the capture of Saddam and the signing of a progressive constitution [and] the actual handing over of sovereignty at the end. There were some rough times like when my good friend … was killed in a bomb and we lost several people who worked for me.”
Bremer says his hope for the Iraqis is somewhat “hedged” by his concerns about the U.S. pulling out before, he believes, they should have.