Middle East

Paul Bremer: 'US must not walk away from Iraq'

Paul Bremer
Image caption Paul Bremer says "democratic rule in Iraq will not be easy, certainly no easier than it was in America"

Paul Bremer was the top civil administrator in Iraq until transferring sovereignty back to the Iraqi interim government in 2004. He argues that, despite the good work done in Iraq, a continued role for US government officials in the country is vital to ensure an open, democratic nation.

As American troops end their combat role in Iraq, Americans, and citizens of countries that fought alongside us liberating Iraq, can take a certain measure of satisfaction with the progress there.

To be sure, anti-democratic extremists continue their attacks. Iraqis still struggle to establish a new government and to provide essential services, like electric power.

But amidst the fevered commentary, a bit of perspective seems appropriate. Having lost many American and Iraqi friends in this war, I'm fully aware that every casualty is painful.

But it's worth remembering that Iraqi and American casualties are 95% lower than three years ago. And while still below demand, electricity production is 40% above pre-war levels.

We Americans, in particular, might moderate our criticism of the lengthy efforts to establish representative government. Remember: it took us seven years to win our independence, 12 years to write our constitution and 20 years before we even had political parties.

Establishing democratic rule in Iraq will not be easy, certainly no easier than it was in America. But to say that something is difficult is not to say that it's undesirable or impossible.

The bigger picture confirms that the vast majority of Iraqis want their country to be ruled by a government chosen by its citizens, not by a tyrant which, until liberation in 2003, had been Iraq's sad history.

Over the past five years, millions of Iraqis have braved terrorist threats to vote in four elections and in one referendum, in which they approved the most progressive constitution in any Arab country in history.

That revolutionary document acknowledges fundamental human rights, the equality of the sexes and freedom of religion.

It establishes the rule of law, the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary.

Of course, the constitution is only a document and must be respected in practice. Still, the bottom line: today for the first time in the country's history, Iraqis are citizens, not subjects, of their government.

The delay in forming a government is frustrating, even disappointing.

But the lively Iraqi debate about establishing a government is itself refreshing and, ironically, a measure of how far Iraq has come. Under Saddam, such talk would have resulted in torture or death.

Image caption Paul Bremer says "Iraq lives in a dangerous neighbourhood"

Today, nowhere else in the Arab Muslim world is this kind of open discussion encouraged or even tolerated.

This underscores the stakes in Iraq.

For if the ancient land of Mesopotamia can establish a representative government, guided by modern constitutional principles, the example shows that other Arab Muslim countries, too, can be ruled by their people.

Democracy in a major Arab nation also refutes the claim by Islamic extremists that Islam is in fundamental discord with the modern world and must wage war on it.

America must not walk away from the still-limited success in Iraq. Iraq lives in a dangerous neighbourhood. The ancient pre-Islamic frontier between Arab and Persian civilisations runs along its eastern border.

With a population of only 30 million, Iraq will never be able to generate conventional forces alone able to balance Iran with twice the population base. And a nuclear-armed Iran, which the American government rightly declares "unacceptable", would threaten Iraq, the entire region and broader American interests.

So America has ongoing interests in Iraq's success and stability.

Our security agreement calls for the withdrawal of all American forces by the end of next year. But that agreement also provides that the two countries can undertake "strategic deliberations" about defending Iraq against internal and external threats.

The American government should soon begin quiet discussions with the Iraqis about how, after next year, we can continue to support Iraq as it moves along the difficult road to an open, democratic society.

This essay was broadcast on The World at One on BBC Radio 4 and is now available to listen again on iPlayer.