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Security Improving, Economy Worsening in Iraq, Reports US Top Administrator - 2003-06-12

The head of the coalition provisional authority in Iraq said there has been an increase in organized resistance by elements of the former Baathist regime. Paul Bremer spoke in a televised briefing for members of Congress.

Mr. Bremer said the security situation in Baghdad has "improved dramatically" in the last three-to-four weeks, although U.S. forces still face "random criminal activity."

He said about 8,000 Iraqi police are now assisting U.S. troops, who he said are conducting as many as 1,100 patrols every 24 hours.

However, in other areas north and west of the city, he said there have been more serious attacks, by Baathists and possibly former "Fedayeen Saddam" or Republican Guard. So far, he says, there is no evidence of any central command and control, and the attacks have involved small groups.

Members of the House Armed Services committee, several of whom visited Baghdad several weeks ago, asked Mr. Bremer about the status of the U.S. military deployment in Iraq and likely needs in coming months.

Congressman Ike Skelton, the ranking Democrat on the committee, pressed for details of long-term planning for the military occupation:

"Not a day goes by when one of our soldiers isn't killed," he said. "We need a plan for securing Iraq, in part to protect our troops, but also to bring security to the Iraqi people who are there. Providing security is a long-term commitment. We know that. We need a plan for how many U.S. troops will be needed, how many months, how many years to come." Mr. Bremer says some areas of the country are still, in his words, "a war zone." He repeatedly declined to predict how many troops will be needed, or for how long, saying only that this will be determined by the Defense Department and conditions on the ground.

He said the size and duration of the coalition military occupation is based on the need to maintain substantial combat capability until "we are satisfied we have imposed our will against our enemies." He added: "We are not there yet."

Mr. Bremer said his current immediate priority is to address the problem of Iraq's economy, which in his words, "was flat on its back before the war, and is in even worse shape now."

He said unemployment, probably more than 50 percent before the war, is now higher, because many state enterprises have been closed. "My top priority," Mr. Bremer said, "is to create jobs."

Mr. Bremer said bids have been accepted for purchases of the first Iraqi oil production since U.N. sanctions ended. An announcement should come within days, and revenues will contribute to reconstruction.

On political transition, Mr. Bremer said the goal has not changed, namely an Iraq governed by a democratic process, with a government selected by elections, based on a new constitution with input from all segments of Iraqi society.

Mr. Bremer's televised testimony was interrupted at one point by poor audio connections with Baghdad. Lawrence DiRita, special assistant to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, filled in the gaps.

"It's going to take time," he said. "On one hand, we certainly don't want to impose a final outcome, but we're going to have to impose some discipline in a process that can lead to the final outcome."

Mr. Bremer said some Iraqis who have formed political parties have expressed concern about "the direction of political consultations." Those who decide not to participate in the process, he said, would be "missing an opportunity to influence how the next crucial months go."