War voices: Tom Basile

Al Jazeera asks five people for their memories of the war and its aftermath.

    Paul Bremer was head of Iraq's US-run Coalition Provisional Authority [GALLO/GETTY] 

    Tom Basile is a former spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority, Iraq's US-administrated transitional government following the invasion. He was in Iraq for seven months following the invasion and then supported the CPA in Washington DC until July 2004.

    In Focus

    In depth coverage on the fifth anniversary of the
    Iraq invasion

    During the invasion I was in Washington, where I held an appointment to the Bush administration and was doing my regular job as communications director for a federal agency and special projects for the White House surrounding presidential events.

    The Pentagon, the White House and State Department were putting together staff for Paul Bremer [former US state department official and ex-head of the CPA] and in July 2003 I was fortunate to be called and asked to be part of the team. I was put on a plane within 10 days of being asked to go, sent to Kuwait then shortly thereafter to Iraq.

    It was very clear that the coalition needed people to quickly build an infrastructure around Bremer and the CPA. They wanted people who were going to be able to make a commitment for a uncertain amount of time.

    It was important that we put these people on the ground and get moving in trying to accomplish the CPA's mission of returning executive authority to the Iraqis.

    'Remarkable place'

    I think critics ignore some basic facts -  before the invasion and after many people said all Sunnis and Shias and Kurds and Turkmen will never sit down or form a government

    My first day I landed at Baghdad airport … the bus ride to the Green Zone [former centre of the CPA] was very instructive about the dangers, the difficulties and the potential.

    There's a road between Baghdad and the [city] airport – that road had been closed as there were several IED attacks, it was the first thing I heard.  I was well aware I was in a dangerous place.

    While travelling, watching the Iraqi children who are playing in sewage, seeing people living in abject poverty and extremely poor conditions, I said to myself - there is great potential to improve the quality of life here.

    Overall the CPA was a remarkable place, because it was an organisation unlike any ever developed in terms of size, scope, the way it sought to develop new institutions and new political leadership.

    I think critics ignore some basic facts. Before the invasion - and after - many people said all Sunnis and Shias and Kurds and Turkmen will never sit down or form a government.

    Then the CPA came in and in the space of five months they consolidated the currency and got financial and banking systems running again. The second thing was the governing council – it was the first time these groups had ever sat down and agreed to anything.

    We began the process of getting a power and electrical infrastructure running that had been neglected. By the time we were done 13 months later, more people had access to electricity and water than before the war.


    As for the security forces – when we arrived there were no police, no army and not a single cop on the street.

    Voices from the Iraq war

    'Yasmin' is an Iraqi woman who fled the violence and now lives in Sweden

    'Mohammed' is an Iraqi dentist who lives in Baghdad

    Camilo Mejia is a former US soldier and Iraq war veteran

    Tom Basile is a former spokesman for the CPA, the US-run transitional government in Iraq post-invasion

    Roland Huguenin-Benjamin is a former Red Cross spokesman who worked in Iraq during the invasion

    Click on the names above to read their stories

    We set a structure in place to establish an army and police force that was professional, trained and well equipped and understood military conventions and due process.

    I agree with the decision [to disband the army] – you have to look at the situation on the ground. We took less than 7,000 POWs [in 2003], in 1991 we took 70,000.

    If we tried to reconstitute the military there would have been no place to billet and train or even pay them.  The idea of creating another conscript army was not in the best interests of the future.

    We graduated the first battalion in the first four months, removed torture provisions [in law], instituted rights of representation for the accused, removed Saddamist judges and reestablished a more independent judiciary.

    Work yielded the most liberal constitution in history of the Middle East and paved the way for free elections.

    Without the CPA we would not have seen the free elections. A lot of the criticism is based on misinformation and media hype.

    Greatest threats

    Basile says Iraq's greatest threat remains
    attacks by Islamic extremists [AFP]
    Mistakes were made, it's generally agreed in the CPA – we would have supported more troops on the ground and I think also there are issues as to whether we dealt effectively with the Shia militias early on in the process.

    Those are legitimate criticisms but that's not just the CPA but coalition criticisms – these were joint decisions made in Washington and other capitals.

    The Iraqis I met and saw there have a tremendous amount of hope and pride. These people have gotten a little taste of their potential and I think they have seen, as their country has opened up, what freedom can do for them, their children, their economy and way of life.

    But Iraqis must be careful, one of the greatest threats to a free Iraq is radical Islamic extremists, an Islam that does not believe in this constitution, doesn't believe in free speech, freedom of religion [and] gender equality.

    One of the things we are seeing since the surge more and more is people – Sunni, Shia and Kurd - standing up and saying these people … do not represent our future, which is a very positive turn of events.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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