Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

In New Book, Bremer Mistakenly Exposes Relationship with Former Protégé, Wanted Fugitive


Let me entertain a wild guess here, but I’m betting that Jerry Bremer, former 'viceroy' of Baghdad, had sent his new book to the publishers before mid-summer of last year, since he neglected to edit out two embarrassing associations with Ziad Cattan, the former head of the procurement department at Iraq’s Ministry of Defense and now a fugitive at the center of a scandal involving 1.2 billion dollars in ‘missing’ funds.

The story was broken last July by Hannah Allam, the former Baghdad bureau chief for Knight-Ridder. In a follow-up story sent out on the wires on August 12, she quotes Dan Senor, still speaking on behalf of his former boss, saying that at “at least to [Bremer’s] knowledge, he’d never met [Ziad Cattan].” Here is an excerpt:

"Before me, there was another prime minister. His name was Bremer," Ayad Allawi, who served as interim premier when the corruption investigation began sometime last year, told Knight Ridder. "He ran this country, he had this ministry and a lot of the corruption started then. ... There was no auditing. Airplanes were flying in and the money was handed out in suitcases."

Former Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan has told U.S. and Iraqi officials that Bremer personally requested that Ziad Cattan -- the alleged ringleader of the corruption and the ministry's former procurement chief -- stay in his job after sovereignty was transferred last summer.

Bremer said this week, through his former CPA spokesman Dan Senor, that he didn't know Cattan. "At least to his knowledge, he'd never met him," Senor said.

Cattan, a dual Polish-Iraqi national, was fired in May and a warrant was issued for his arrest in connection with "the abuse of an employer's funds." He fled Baghdad and hasn't returned to answer the charges.

And again in Patrick Coburn’s dispatch on September 19, 2005 for the Independent, Bremer denies ever hearing of Cattan:

Mr Shalaan says that Paul Bremer, then US viceroy in Iraq, signed off the appointment of Ziyad Cattan as the defence ministry's procurement chief. Mr Cattan, of joint Polish-Iraqi nationality, spent 27 years in Europe, returning to Iraq two days before the war in 2003. He was hired by the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority and became a district councillor before moving to the defence ministry.

For eight months the ministry spent money without restraint. Contracts worth more than $ 5m should have been reviewed by a cabinet committee, but Mr Shalaan asked for and received from the cabinet an exemption for the defence ministry. Missions abroad to acquire arms were generally led by Mr Cattan. Contracts for large sums were short scribbles on a single piece of paper. Auditors have had difficulty working out with whom Iraq has a contract in Pakistan.

Authorities in Baghdad have issued an arrest warrant for Mr Cattan. Neither he nor Mr Shalaan, both believed to be in Jordan, could be reached for further comment. Mr Bremer says he has never heard of Mr Cattan.

[For the record, Coburn does not credit Allam in any way for breaking and fully reporting on the story. All he had to add was a sensationalist quote from Iraq’s minister of finance to the effect that this could have been the biggest heist in history. Isn’t there a technical term for ripping-off other people’s work? Hint: it starts with a ‘p’ and rhymes with ‘plagiarism.’]

But Bremer's denials are a little confusing, because in his book, My Year in Iraq; The Struggle to Build a Future of Hope, Simon & Schuster (January 2006), Chapter 7, p. 178, ambassador L. Paul Bremer III (with Malcolm McConnell) writes the following:

“Seated beside me was the new chairman of the District Council, Dr. Ziyad Cattan, a Ph.D. economist who had spent twenty years in Germany and returned after Liberation. Having traded a comfortable life in Europe “to serve my country” for a minimal salary and the drudgery of rebuilding 9 Nisan, he embodied the dedication so many Iraqis felt for their nation.”

And then there is llustration no. 24 showing Bremer with Cattan and captioned “With the chairman of Nisan 9 Council and a young singer October 2, 2003, minutes before an aborted assassination attempt on Bremer.” on p. 190.

So in fact, Bremer can even recall the day of his meeting with Cattan, since he associates that day with an aborted assassination attempt.

And just in case, Ziad Cattan has put up a website in Arabic, Polish and English in an attempt to clear his name of any wrong-doing, which features several pictures of him with Jerry Bremer. [The music in the background is Iraq’s de facto national anthem.]

Back in August, I wrote a column called Rotten Fish that featured Mr. (or Dr.) Ziad Cattan:

I met Mr. Cattan once a few years back when he was managing a pizza parlor in a suburb of Bonn. I'm no culinary expert, but lunch was awful, which may have had something to do with his business going belly-up. This failed restaurateur, who also moonlighted as a human trafficker of Iraqi refugees, was hired by Paul Bremer's outfit, the Coalition Provisional Authority, in January 2004.
It is interesting that Bremer would qualify Cattan’s salary at the time of his work as district councilor as “minimal” since Cattan was employed then by the IRDC. I wrote about this group back in December [scroll down] and revealed that their salaries started at 12,000 USD per month. Makes you wonder how much Bremer was being paid if he found 12 grand to be “minimal”? Now imagine how much more he would have been paid if he had actually done a moderately good job!

The book is full of self-promoting BS, and in numerous instances, it reeks of outright malice and distortion. Bremer’s denial to the press of prior knowledge of Ziad Cattan is just one example among many of a natural inclination towards duplicity, and slinking away from taking any responsibility for the mess he left in his wake. We used to shovel this BS out of the way on a daily basis during the CPA era, just to clear a navigable path towards a measure of sovereignty.

Indeed, Bremer's motto was completely on the mark: "Success has a thousand fathers" while failure is an orphan (...or a bastard). Bremer needs to fork out some child support and someone needs to expose him for what he is: a deadbeat dad. Ziad Cattan sure could use a little tenderness...

PS: This is my favorite picture of Bremer in his CPA days. Notice the man pointing up at the banner that reads, “Bani Hassan Trips In Iraq wellcom with coming of Mr Pole Braimer and we wish to have a good time of task in Iraq, chif [?] trps Al-Mohemed Abasi”. This tribal sheikh was another protégé of Bremer’s who also had a much-checkered past (not to mention atrocious spelling!). He disappeared into obscurity after his patron left in June 2004.


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