EDITOR’S NOTE:This is an excerpt from My Year in Iraq by Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III with Malcolm McConnell, pages 102-103. (Copyright © 2006 by L. Paul Bremer III. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.) In this excerpt, Ambassador Bremer recalls Sunday, July 13, 2003, when the Iraqi Governing Council met the press for the first time.
Then came questions from the media, and the fun began.
First on his feet was a BBC reporter who facetiously asked, “Isn’t it true that” the [Governing] Council was just a creature of the Americans, had no powers, and was essentially useless?
[Jalal] Talabani grabbed the mike and chided the reporter for representing “our former colonial masters. BBC never tells the truth about Iraq,” he continued. Warming to his subject, Talabani said, “The Council is the most representative government Iraq has ever had.” He went on to enumerate some of its powers and suggested in no uncertain terms that the reporter didn’t know what he was talking about.
Then a reporter from Al-Jazeera Television, always hostile to the Coalition, made a speech, thinly disguised as a question, along similar lines. This set off a chain reaction among Council members.
Pachachi with great dignity refuted the implication that the Council was a plaything and suggested that the Arab media would do well to pay attention to the real changes taking place in Iraq.
Not to be outdone, Naseer al-Chaderchi, the elderly lawyer from a highly regarded Sunni family who had stayed in Iraq throughout Saddam’s tyranny, blasted Al-Jazeera. “I say this to the Arab media: stop advising the Iraqis to fight the Americans.” There was loud applause from the audience, including, we noted, a number of Iraqi journalists.
This brought Bahr al-Uloum up out of his chair. “All Arab TV coverage of the war and Liberation had been one-sided, biased against the Iraqis,” he practically shouted. “These media have been threatening us from the first day of the war until now!” As he took his seat, his passion provoked more applause. This inspired the elfish mullah to rise again.
“You people from Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya and others—you never covered the atrocities committed by Saddam! He killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis! He gassed Iraqis! Why haven’t you shown the mass graves to your audiences?” There was more applause as Bahr al-Uloum sat down once more.
But now, egged on by Talabani, who was seated beside him, up jumped Bahr al-Uloum again. He was unstoppable.
“The Arab press keeps talking about Saddam coming back. He is not coming back! He is in the dustbin of history! He will never return!” More applause and at last he sank back in triumph and satisfaction.
So it went for another forty-five minutes. Members of the GC parried each hostile question (and most were hostile) with skill and emotion. At the end of the session, a woman in the audience who said she represented some obscure nongovernmental organization rose and gave a long statement about American imperialism, America’s genocidal war against the Iraqis, and so on . . .
Now it was the turn of one of the Council’s three women, Dr. Raja Khuzai, a gentle, head-scarved ob-gyn from the southern Shia town of Diwaniya. She was normally bashful and unsure of herself. Not this day. Dr. Raja said:
“Over the past thirty-five years, I helped deliver babies for thousands of Iraqi women. Now, for the first time in Iraq’s recent history, Iraqi women will have a place in society. I am honored to be playing a role in giving birth to a new Iraqi nation today.”
It was a stunning performance.
As I said in a note I later sent President Bush:
“Sunday was more than the birth of a rudimentary representative government; the process brought forth strong expressions of Iraqi national pride.”
–L. Paul Bremer III, a career diplomat, was presidential envoy to Iraq from May 2003 to June 2004.