This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," Jan. 31, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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BRIT HUME, HOST: After the fall of Saddam, amid the disarray, the looting and the violence, a nationwide election in Iraq must have seemed a distant dream. But some Americans never lost faith in the idea.

And one of those was the man whose job it was to bring some order out of the postwar chaos. Paul Bremer the former director of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance and head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq joins me now.

Welcome, sir.


HUME: Nice to see you. Your reaction, first of all, to yesterday’s developments.

BREMER: Well, it was a great day, a great victory for the Iraqi people. Above all, a victory for democracy over terrorism, and really a very important step forward for the president’s message of freedom in the region.

HUME: The next challenge we hear is to somehow reconcile the Sunnis and the Shiia. And the sense one has and one gets from expert opinion on all this was that this is a very difficult undertaking. That the Sunni and Shiia are distinct entities, a part on where they live geographically and the way they look at the world, and that bringing them together in some way will be difficult. Your view of that.

BREMER: Well, there are, of course, tensions there. But I think that a lot of the commentary here over the last year and a half has been rather superficial. The Iraqis really think of themselves as Iraqis.

I had an e-mail from somebody who worked for us in the Ministry of Justice when I was there this morning, saying that she was very pleased. Her family, her mother who is a Sunni had been approached by a Shiia neighbor to go vote together. Her brother went and found a Christian neighbor and they voted together. And her father, just to finish it all, went and found a Turkaman neighbor and they voted together. The Iraqis are basically Iraqis.

HUME: Now, there’s a widespread rule that this country because it lived under the uniting tyranny of Saddam, and where the Sunnis got all of the goodies, and the Shiia were repressed that they are not really one country. That they do not — there are major differences. And that the Sunni will feel now because the Shiia dominate, and will dominate the new elected body that they’re left out. Is that a plausible scenario?

BREMER: I’m sure there will be some Sunnis who feel that way. Actually I think what’s remarkable, if you go back to liberation, is how little of this has happened. How little revenge killings there have been compared to, just for example, what happened in France and Italy after the liberation of the Second World War where hundreds of thousands of people were killed as collaborators.

Very little of that in Iraq. There are Sunnis on all of these major electoral lists. There are Sunnis in the current cabinet. There will be Sunnis in the parliament, and there will be Sunnis in the next government.

HUME: What is your sense about why they didn’t vote? Is it more they were afraid because they’ve been so threatened, and of course, the terrorists find harbor in those areas? Or is it more that it was a boycott?

BREMER: I think — of course we’ll never really know. But my own view is it’s almost because it’s entirely because intimidation. I mean I can well understand why somebody in Ramadi or Fallujah, or in Abu Ghraib, which is the western suburb of Baghdad, would feel really his life was threatened if he went to the polls.

But again, I would like to stress I think — you know, if you look at these elections, they are a step in the path that I laid out with the Iraqi leadership 15 months ago. And everybody has been saying on every these — one of these steps, we wouldn’t do it. They said we’d never write a constitution. We wrote a constitution on time. Then they said we’d never appoint an interim government by the end of May. We appointed it on June 1. They said you’ll never give up sovereignty on January 30. We did it two days early.

Then everybody said we’d never have these elections. We’ve had these elections. There’s a path ahead and it involves all the Iraqis: Sunni, Shiia, Kurds, Christians and so forth.

HUME: There’s a widespread plan that there was no plan to win the peace. These events have all taken place. There’s been a sense that we were sort of making it up as we went along. We’d get to one step and then we’d kind of figure out where to go next. And that we were really running the whole thing to the extent that it was being run at all. What about that?

BREMER: Well, I think it’s more accurate to say that the plans in place for the postwar turned out not to be as relevant with the situation on the ground. We thought this was going to be a longer war than it was. We thought there’d be more humanitarian problems, health problems, refugees than they turned out to be. But I developed a plan, which we have followed, really for the last year and a half. By early July of 2003, a very broad strategic plan briefed here to Congress and to the administration in July, and we basically have been following that plan.

And incidentally, one of the most important elements of that plan was to support democratic institutions and civic society. When Congress passed its supplemental bill for us in Iraq.

HUME: The famous $87 billion.

BREMER: The famous $87 billion, of which 19 was for Iraq. They earmarked $100 million of that for democracy building. I quintupled that to $480 million and I threw another $260 million from the Iraqi budget to promote democracy. That’s almost three quarters of a billion dollar that had been spent. The point is this kind of thing, like these elections, doesn’t happen by accident. It happens because we were following a plan.

HUME: Let’s talk about the difficulty in the next step compared to the difficulty of holding this election, particularly under these circumstances with the security issue being so severe. Is it the case that the hard part now lies ahead? Or is the hardest part now behind us?

BREMER: I think in many ways the hardest part is behind us. I really think this election is, to use Churchill’s phrase, "The end of the beginning." The end of the beginning of Iraq’s transformation to a representative, the first real representative government in the region.

And by the way, one of the things we need to watch in the next few months is the impact of this dramatic election, a group of Arabs going freely to the polls on the region. During the run up to the election and during the election itself yesterday, the Arab television stations in neighboring countries: Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, were showing the Iraqis dancing in the streets in glee. And it must be that some of the citizens of those countries are saying to themselves, why not us?

HUME: There’s a new audit out of money spent by the Coalition Provisional Authority. And it says that in some areas, very large sums of money were turned over with nothing like proper restraints, proper ordinary procedures to Iraqi ministries. That there was corruption that money got spread around in ways that we can’t account for. What about that?

BREMER: Well, you know, I’ve read the report, of course. And I guess there’s a different of perspective. You have a couple of accountants looking at spreadsheets here in Washington; I was in Baghdad with a war and an economy that was flat on its back.

I was hearing from our military commanders and from the Iraqi people from the day I arrived, we got to get the money out through the ministries and into the hands of the Iraqi people to start the economy up. The auditors would have had us wait to do that until we had Western style auditing procedures in place. That’s just silly. We couldn’t wait.

Secondly, they wanted us basically to put an army of American auditors in each of the ministries to follow every single dime all way down. This is contrary to the whole strategy of letting the Iraqis be responsible for their country.

HUME: War Ambassador, pleasure to have you. Thanks so much for taking the time.

BREMER: Nice to be with you again.

HUME: Good to see you.

BREMER: Good to see you.

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