The leader of a prominent Iraqi exile group has called for the rapid transfer of political power to Iraqis and the establishment of an Iraqi security force. Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi told the Council on Foreign Relations, a New York-based foreign policy institution, that the political process in the country must take its own course without outside influence. Chalabi also said that Iraqis should be enlisted to help find weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein.
New York, 11 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Iraqi National Congress (INC) leader Ahmad Chalabi yesterday expressed a mixture of gratitude and frustration at the efforts of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.
Chalabi told the Council on Foreign Relations think tank that the majority of Iraqi people are grateful to the United States and Great Britain for helping to liberate the country.
But he was critical of plans by U.S. administrator Paul Bremer to use informal consultations to appoint an interim Iraqi administration. He said the political process needs to be opened to the Iraqi people right away.
Chalabi also said the country would become stable sooner if the U.S. helped to train an Iraqi security force to police the state. "If they want to take charge immediately, with hands on as a police force, I don't think that any number of troops will pacify the country in any reasonable time," he said. "If the United States decides to examine the situation, deal with its allies in Iraq who are the absolute majority of the population, use local forces, then I think the United States within months can withdraw from the cities, reduce its strength, and maintain a force with high firepower in Iraq. My own view is that the United States should stay in Iraq by treaty, [and] have military bases in Iraq."
Chalabi joined other Iraqi exile leaders who have complained recently about the reluctance of the U.S. authorities in Iraq to actively cooperate with them in establishing a new authority in the country.
But Bremer, the U.S. administrator, said at a press conference in Baghdad yesterday that consultations have involved a wide range of Iraqis. "I still anticipate that we will be able to establish elements of this transitional administration, this interim administration, within the next four to five weeks. That process is going on. We are continuing consultations with a broader group of Iraqis from around the country even as we speak today," he said.
Chalabi also suggested that with a concerted effort involving Iraqis, coalition forces in Iraq will find weapons of mass destruction in the country. He said that the issue has become so difficult to resolve because U.S. authorities do not have access to many of the Iraqi scientists that were involved in the programs. Many of them, he said, have fled to other countries in the Gulf region.
"The most important thing to do is to find the concealment teams. Those people will guide you to the weapons. And as we have said earlier, the weapons and Saddam [Hussein] are one and the same thing. This still continues to be true," Chalabi said.
Chalabi compared the situation with the weapons of mass destruction to that of finding Saddam Hussein. He claimed his organization has reliable information that Hussein is moving around in the area between Baghdad and Tikrit with $1.3 billion stolen from the Iraq Central Bank and has put out a bounty for each U.S. soldier killed.
He said there are indications that if confronted, Hussein would commit suicide rather than surrender. "We have very credible information that Saddam on 1 April asked for and got two suicide-bomber vests. They were sent to him and he was trained, he and his secretary, on their use. We know that. He actually can commit suicide if he wants to. Saddam is very much in a frame of mind of revenge. Saddam believes that he can now sit it out and get the Americans going."
Chalabi said that while finding weapons of mass destruction is important to Americans, the need for finding the truth about missing people and identifying the mass graves are far more important to Iraqis.
"The mass graves in Iraq are much bigger than people expected. They are in the hundreds of thousands. One of those sites I've seen was completely devastating. There was this huge hole with a sort of bulldozer scooping up bones and skulls and dumping them on the sand. And people were taking a skull, a chest, limbs randomly and putting them in a transparent plastic bag and dumping [them]," he said.
Responding to criticism that he is a leader "manufactured" by the U.S. administration with no deep roots in Iraq, Chalabi said that he traveled without U.S. escort to the north of Iraq in January through Iran. He said his name and the name of his father -- a one-time member of the Faisal monarchy's Council of Ministers -- is very well-known to ordinary Iraqis.
Chalabi's critics argue that after being absent from Iraq for so many years, his real influence on the political process in the country is rather uncertain.