msnbc.com news services
updated 3/24/2004 9:23:54 AM ET 2004-03-24T14:23:54

Iraq’s U.S. administrator, L. Paul Bremer, said Wednesday he would establish a new Iraqi defense ministry this week to replace the one he dissolved in May after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

“I will formally create the new Iraqi ministry of defense and a cabinet-level national security committee later this week,” he said in a speech on live television.

Bremer said these structures would enable Iraq to protect its citizens from foreign aggression. “Iraq’s security is the first concern of Iraqi citizens -- we hear it every day -- and the top priority of the coalition,” he declared.

He was speaking at the start of a 100-day countdown to a planned transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis on June 30.

Bremer dissolved Iraq’s 400,000-strong armed forces and security services, along with the defense and information ministries, in May in a bid to rid Iraq of its Baathist past.

Some Iraqi leaders had criticized the move, saying it fueled security problems by destroying so many jobs and throwing onto the streets a large number of armed and alienated men.

Bremer on Wednesday also listed what he said were accomplishments by the U.S.-led coalition governing Iraq.

“Almost a year after liberation, we should take heart in what has been accomplished,” Bremer said in an outdoor speech in the Green Zone, the heavily protected area housing the coalition headquarters in the center of Baghdad.

Picking up steam
Bremer said 200,000 Iraqis were now serving in security positions across the country; Iraqi has more electricity than it did before the war; more than 2,500 schools have been “rehabilitated;” and more than 3 million Iraqi children under age five had been vaccinated against polio and other diseases.

“The economy is picking up steam,” he said. “Unemployment is half what it was at liberation and possibly even lower.”

Bremer also cited the signing of an interim constitution as a key step toward the June 30 handover of power from the coalition to Iraqis.

He acknowledged that some Iraqi leaders were not fully satisfied, but praised members of the U.S.-appointed Governing Council for agreeing to a compromise in signing the document.

“Iraq is now on the path to full democracy in a united state at peace with its neighbors,” he said.

U.S. troops are fighting a deadly insurgency that sprang up shortly after Saddam was removed from power and are expected to remain in Iraq long after the June 30 handover. More than 500 American troops have died during the war and occupation.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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