Transcript

PrintPrint EmailEmail ShareShare CiteCite
Style:MLAAPAChicagoClose

loading...

A Conversation with Ahmad Chalabi

Authors: Tom Brokaw, Special Correspondent, NBC News, and Ahmad Chalabi, President, Iraqi National Congress
June 10, 2003
Council on Foreign Relations

Share

Speaker: Ahmad Chalabi, co-founder, Iraqi National Congress
Presider: Tom Brokaw, NBC News

 

June 10, 2003
New York

 


Tom Brokaw [TB]: Good morning. I'm Tom Brokaw, here with Ahmad Chalabi, and before we begin the program, a reminder: these are to be turned off. The house rules here at the gulag (Laughter) Council on Foreign Relations, of which there are many, as you know. I'm very happy to be here this morning with this distinguished visitor from Iraq, who has come back to this country for his daughter's graduation from Harvard. I don't know whether it's a concern to you, but you can say "Tuition Free in '03" as a result of that. (Laughter). This is an on-the-record session. Obviously we have representatives of the press here today, but the questions will come only from the members of the Council who are assembled before us in these tables.

No Iraqi expatriate has had a higher profile than our guest here this morning or more powerful friends in the current administration in Washington than Ahmad Chalabi. He was born in 1944 in Iraq. He was educated in this country at MIT and has a Ph.D. in math from the University of Chicago. He returned to the Middle East to American University in Beirut, where he taught and then formed Petro Bank in Jordan ... we'll get into that as well later. And he was a founding member of the Iraqi National Congress in Vienna in 1992, and he returned to Iraq this spring with the help of some of those powerful friends to whom I referred earlier in conspicuous fashion and has been in Baghdad with the Iraqi National Congress for the past several months. I talked to your friend Richard Perle last fall, and we talked about the consequences of war and what the possible outcome might be, and one of the concerns I had at that time, and I think a lot of people in this room probably shared that, is that once the military victory was over, which everyone anticipated, how long it would take for Iraq to arrive at some form of self-government, and Richard Perle said with characteristic confidence, "Oh, I think the Iraqis can get themselves organized within a year." Do you think that that's possible?

Ahmad Chalabi [AC]: Well, it's certainly possible. Iraqis can get themselves organized within a few months. Iraq now is liberated, the Ba'ath Party is banned, Mr. Bremer did a great thing by declaring the de-Ba'athification of Iraq. I mean, that is a great victory for the Iraqi people, and this was not always the desired outcome by all the United States government. Some people wanted to retain the Ba'ath in some fashion, but Mr. Bremer was decisive and he gets full credit for declaring a policy of de-Bat'athification. But Iraqis can organize themselves. However, it seems that the powers, the occupation powers, are reluctant to have an Iraqi process immediately. There are certain concerns and fears, and those are being expressed and those are delaying the full Iraqi political process to get going.

TB: Ambassador Bremer would rather have you in an advisory role for the foreseeable future.

AC: Well, he would like to have an advisory council rather than a provisional government. The U.S. position shifted in the past six weeks. The special envoy of the President, Dr. Khalilzad declared at the beginning of May that the United States will support the provisional government in Iraq, and he declared this to the press. Then this was reversed later. We don't know exactly how this decision was made and why, but I believe there were fears about the spread of Iranian influence and Islamic fundamentalism, which I think are basically unfounded.

TB: Do you think there should be a fixed timetable for a transition to a provisional government of some kind?

AC: I think there should be a provisional government very quickly ... an Iraqi provisional government. You see, there have been some very curious developments. First of all, the United States government said that the United States should not pick and choose Iraqi leaders. I agree with that wholeheartedly. I mean, the United States should not be involved in the process of picking and choosing Iraqi leaders. This was before the liberation. When the liberation took place, our proposal was ... which we put on the table ... to Mr. Garner and Mr. Bremer ... was that we should have a process where we'd have provincial assemblies in each of the provinces of Iraq of several hundred people who would be chosen through a process by notables within the community. It is possible to do and it is possible to accommodate almost every significant figure within a few hundred people in each of those provinces. Then those people would elect pro rata representatives to a national assembly ... provisional national assembly ... and that national assembly would chose a provisional government and would approve an interim constitution with clearly defined powers which would come to an agreement with the American civil and military authorities about what the Americans are interested in, and they can run those things completely ... such as looking for weapons of mass destruction, reshaping the security services and the army, also doing de-Ba'athification and whatever other aspect of affairs they want to control in Iraq, but other affairs such as agriculture, such as health and education, would be in the province of the provisional government.

This would be a democratic process, and this would give people who stayed in Iraq more representation in the government and the assembly and the United States would not be put in a position of choosing people, leaders. They are involved now in choosing leaders. The leadership of the previous opposition, which is recognized and has the Kurds in it, the Islamics in it, liberal democrats ... does not take order lightly. So there is this unseemly process which has been to try to denigrate them in the press ... in the American press. It has no reflection in Iraq. But now they are trying to choose leaders ... in fact, they invited leaders to a meeting, supposedly with the seven, and they didn't even announce who they invited, neither before nor after. It is not possible to manufacture leaders. Leaders will emerge through a process of political debate, and the best way to have Iraqi leaders from inside the country emerge is to have this political process start right away.

TB: With all due respect, Dr. Chalabi, there are some who believe that you are a manufactured leader, that you were put in place by the administration and the friends that you have there and that you were given a leg up, so to speak, by arriving in Iraq before the others who were in exile, and that for the first few weeks, at least, you were first among equals. Then your militia was, if not disbanded, disarmed. How would you respond to those who say that you were a manufactured leader with no real deep roots in Iraq because you'd been absent for so long?

AC: I tell them come to Baghdad and observe for yourself. If you think the United States helped me ... Well, some people in the United States helped me and some people in the United States did their best to try to prevent me even from going to Iraq. The United States did not take me to Iraq. I went to Iraq in the north in January through Iran, and I participated in the meeting of the opposition, where there was little United States support for me in that meeting. Nevertheless we got elected ... four people were elected to the leadership council and they were empowered to expand this council. Then the United States asked the INC to put together an Iraqi force which will be under the command of Centcom. They sent a liaison officer with us, Colonel Sear, and they asked us to put together this force. Some people in the United States government thought we would not be able to do it, but we did it very quickly. And we put together this force and the United States transported this force from northern Iraq to southern Iraq using the U.S. Air Force. Even as I was getting on the plane there was major resistance to me from the United States ... some people in the United States government ... who didn't want me to go to southern Iraq, but nevertheless we went to southern Iraq. I just went to the plane and nobody stopped me.

We got to southern Iraq. Our presence there was not immediately welcomed by U.S. forces, but we demonstrated our ability by dealing with the issues of de-Ba'athification in Nasiriyah very, very effectively, and I'm glad to say that Nasiriyah is one of the few places in Iraq where there was no looting and destruction. Then I wanted to go to Baghdad very quickly, but the military authorities were not happy about that. After a few days we went anyway. As we were getting into Baghdad we got a phone call from our liaison in Centcom, and he put me with an American officer. She told me, "What is your intention of going to Baghdad?" I said, "I'm going home." She said, "But you should have coordinated this with Centcom." I said, "Well, you know about it. Our liaison is here, and he's a full Colonel and we are going."

So we got to Baghdad. The second day we were in Baghdad the American forces broke into our compound. Zavu, who is our first officer, went to them and said, "Can I help you?" They told him, "We are here to secure the compound." He said, "From us or for us?" (Laughter). He said, "I can't tell you, sir." (Laughter). The point is that as soon as we got to Baghdad, I have been meeting hundreds of Iraqis who know very well who I am, who know very well who my father is, who know very well who my family is. And the support we got is overwhelming. In Nasiriyah, for example, the first political rally in post-Saddam Iraq that we held in Nasiriyah, thousands of people showed up. There was a remarkable degree of their knowledge of what…was doing, what role we played in the passage of the Iraq’s liberation and they knew all about it, and they also ... the most remarkable thing was that they demanded government with the rule of law. "(Iraqi phrase)" ... they kept saying that. In Baghdad at the same time when we got to Baghdad many, many of the communities ... tribal communities, academic communities ... a lot of people came to see me and they continue to come. I meet on average every day between 300 to 400 people ... sometimes 600 people. A person-to-person thing. They come…I sit with them, and they are very, very determined to have an Iraqi provisional government and a democratic government, and this was reported and observed by a lot of people. So the charge that the U.S. manufactured me as a leader in Iraq is false, and the trail of the record of attacks on me ... unnamed attacks by U.S. government officials who refuse to be quoted, sometimes they are quoted ... is lengthy. So I don't think that even now that the U.S. would necessarily support me in any way, but that is irrelevant at the time.

TB: Have you expressed directly to Ambassador Bremer your reservations about the United States picking so-called Iraqi leaders? Have you conveyed that to him directly?

AC: Indeed. I have proposed to him the process of choosing leaders, and I indicated to him that this was the best way to get moving in Iraq right now rather than go through this process. I think that this will come to pass. We hope to have a large conference of Iraqis. The leadership has decided to go through with this at this time, and I don't think the United States would stop Iraqis meeting in Iraq in a democratic forum to discuss democratic development. President Bush said, "Our policy in Iraq is to establish democracy."

TB: Did the United States underestimate what it would take to stabilize Iraq in the post-liberation period, not just politically but especially physically ... restoration of power, water, services, and to deal with security in the streets?

AC: This issue has been an issue of debate for several years now. First of all, you said at the beginning everybody foresaw an easy victory. That's not true. A lot of people kept saying that there's going to be fighting, thousands of casualties. Our position was that there won't be thousands of casualties ...

TB: I didn't say everybody felt that way. I said I thought that there would be a military victory that would come quite (Inaudible).

AC: Okay. (Laughter). But we said that our position was ... and I told you that in an earlier interview with NBC ... that the Iraqi military will not fight to defend Saddam. No. Some people in the U.S. government thought that they can turn part of the military ... this is an important point ... against Saddam and use them to control the country subsequently. And this was the idea of the decapitation strike that they made. However, contrary to their expectation and right on track of what we thought, the Iraqi army went home. There is not one unit now in Iraq which can call itself the Iraqi army. So that left a vacuum. What we had hoped for ... and we kept asking for ... was the training of military policeman, Iraqi military policemen, to go in with the American forces to control the country, stop looting, stop acts of disorder. We believe that this is still possible. Now, the American military is probably the best fighting machine in history. They made a remarkable victory with probably the fastest armored advance in history, but there are no policemen. In Baghdad now, there are over 55,000 American troops, but they can't be police. There is lawlessness, because police work is basically not firepower, it's information. It's knowledge of the community. It is knowledge of where to go. So I think for the United States now, the way to go is to form an Iraqi security force of Iraqis, which will be armed, trained, paid and under the command of Centcom, but they are Iraqis, and this would immediately be formed and they can actually provide order quickly. This is not a theoretical thing. We tested it with the free Iraqi forces, which were of course not our militia. We recruited them for the Americans, but they were under the command of Centcom.

TB: But given the magnitude of the problems in Iraq, how long do you think that a sizable force of American troops will have to stay in the country? We have a third ID now ...

AC: They're moving out.

TB: ...Extended.

AC: Well, that's unfortunate. They're tired.

TB: So how long do you think- do you think that we'll have to have 155,000 to 200,000, which was the Army Chief of Section Senke's original estimate for at least a year there?

AC: General MacArthur in Japan had 200,000, and Japan is bigger than Iraq because of empire. I think it depends on what the Americans do ... how they manage this. If they want to take charge immediately with hands-on as a police force, I don't think any number of troops will pacify the country in any reasonable time. 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, and my own view is that the United States should stay in Iraq by treaty ... have military bases in Iraq.

TB: With a force of what size?

AC: Between 25,000 to 50,000.

TB: I know everybody's out there wondering, when's Brokaw going to get to the lead. Where are the weapons of mass destruction?

AC: Well, the weapons of mass destruction. It's very interesting. The weapons of mass destruction are in Iraq. The way to get them ... they've gone about getting them in, I don't think, a very impressive way. They have had very little input from Iraqis on this issue. I don't think that they have many of the scientists who were involved in the weapons program to talk to at this time, and there were thousands of people, engineers and scientists, they know where the weapons are. The early evidence ....

TB: Are you suggesting that the United States is ignoring the scientists? The U.N. inspectors were talking to them before. We've been told by the administration that they are in touch with them, that they are beginning to seek them out and [to] talk to them.

AC: Now beginning? It's two or three months now.

TB: Two months.

AC: They should have sought them out right away. The main scientists, some of them, are not even in Iraq. Some of them have left for the Gulf. We get reports about them going out of the country, and the point is that they have not aggressively sought to go after the scientists.

TB: What about your own sources underground in Iraq?

AC: Well, we've (Laughter) ... It's curious but we, I should say to you, I read about some of the press stories that talk about us giving false information or exaggerated information. I would say to you that we gave very accurate information, and we produced people whom we handed over to the United States who told them very significant things. One of the people we handed over back in December of 2001, we never saw him again. They thought he was so important they put him in the Witness Protection Program, and he was an engineer who was building facilities. The only tangible thing they found is the mobile labs which we told them about. One of our defectors told them about them at the time.

TB: Are they going to find the so-called smoking gun ... a cache of what is objectively a weapon of mass destruction, either one or stocks of anthrax or nerve gas or evidence that there was an active nuclear weapons program underway? Do you think that they'll find hard evidence in which you can go, "Eureka! Here it is."

AC: I believe they will. It's the same situation with finding Saddam. How are they looking for Saddam? Again, it's a matter of intelligence and a matter of looking for people. We are working ... for example, the deck of 55. I think they've got 27 of them now. We got 15, either directly or we provided information to the forces to get the rest of them. The highest card ... Zubeidi ... Mohammad Hamza Zubeidi, we got. The son-in-law of Saddam, we brought him to the INC compound. He and another person who was not on the list, although he was the last director of the Iraqi intelligence service. We handed them over to them, and they were about to let him go, but we basically told them who he was. This was the second day or the third day I arrived in Baghdad.

So it is a matter of knowing who to talk to and how to find these people. And I think if there is a concerted effort in cooperation with Iraqis, Saddam can be found, and he must be found. I should tell you ...

TB: Where do you think he is?

AC: He is moving in an arc from Diala northeast of Baghdad around the Tigris toward the areas of Tikrit and into the Dalem areas to the west of the Tigris. He did the biggest heist in history. He took $1.3 billion from the central bank on the 18th of March, loaded them in three trucks ... the son went and brought them ... and they've got lots of money. Now he's put a price on American soldiers. He will pay bounty for every American soldier killed in Iraq now, and this has been spread around in the west part of the country. Saddam must be found. But a lot of people in the United States government insisted that he was killed in the decapitation strike on the 19th of March, I don't remember ... 20th? I forgot the exact date. We thought not, and we said so right away at that time. And only two months later the U.S. government said that the decapitation strike they believe did not kill him. Now, yesterday and the day before, the U.S. forces in Baghdad took apart a restaurant building in the district of Mosul to look for DNA evidence because there was a second decapitation strike, and we believe also that I hope they find the DNA, but I don't think they will ... of Saddam. In that area Saddam and his sons are alive.

TB: Let me just be certain of what we're hearing here. When you say that he's moving northeast into the west, is that speculation on your part? Do you have people on the ground who have hard evidence of that?

AC: We had sightings of Saddam. We had several sightings of Saddam in that area.

TB: Several?

AC: Several sightings in that area, but by the time we learned about them, they were four days old, five days old. The best we got was three days old, and those people were ...

TB: And how recent was that?

AC: This was about two weeks before I left Baghdad, and he's sort of getting better at hiding.

TB: Are the sons with him?

AC: His sons are not with him, but they are ... the person with him is Abed Hmoud, his secretary. You see, he and Hosi are the key to the weapons of mass destruction concealment. The most important thing to do is to find the concealment teams. Those people will guide you to the weapons. As we said earlier, the weapons and Saddam are one and the same thing. Still this continues to be true.

TB: Dr. Chalabi, we're going to go to the audience now to hear what people there would like to hear, if I can. Yes sir? Could you wait for the microphone, please?

Roland Paul [RP]: Dr. Chalabi, welcome. My name is Roland Paul. I'm with Ivey Barnum & O'Mara. There have been recent statements by certain imam, very anti-American ... Ubaidi was one and there are a couple of others, both Sunni and perhaps Shiite. What do you think we should do with regard to those imam? Should they be exiled, or what do you think?

AC: I think the worst thing you can do is to take violent action or drastic action against them. What should happen is opening up the Iraqi political process and let people express their views. Every delegation that came to see me, the first thing they say is, "We thank you for helping to persuade the Americans to come here, and we want to thank President Bush and the United States, all of them." The overwhelming majority of the Iraqi people are grateful to President Bush and the United States for helping to liberate the country. Those people who are making those statements, their voices will be drowned. They are drowned now. Also, I should tell you that a great many of the journalists in Baghdad were antiwar, and they continue to be antiwar. And they want to report bad things. Things are not as bad as they seem. Saddam is out, the Iraqis are free to express themselves, and the United States is groping with an unfamiliar situation. There are remedies and there are fixes that can take place and be effective quickly.

Joanna Weschler [JW]: Thank you Joanna Weschler, Human Rights Watch. Everything we have heard including this morning suggests that security is a really key problem in Iraq right now, and it seems that your country desperately needs an efficient, credible, and impartial judiciary and police force. However, after all these years of repression and the role these institutions have played in the apparatus of repression, how do you make sure that people in past Saddam institutions such as police and judiciary are not people responsible for the worst human rights violations?

AC: This is a very important issue. Again I should say to you, we've been sort of like ... I'm sorry to repeat that, but we have called for the training of prosecutors and judges for the past three years. There was a program in the Pentagon ... the Defense Institute for International Legal Studies ... whom we tried to cooperate with, but this was thwarted. In Iraq, I should give you some interesting figures. There are 537 judges only. In the Iraq criminal court there are 112 articles which prescribe the death penalty. I said to them, "Why bother? Say every crime is punishable by death unless otherwise stated." (Laughter). Then there are death sentences ... there's an article in Saddam's constitution, amendment passed 1983, which says, "The president from time to time may issue edicts which will have the force of law," and there are many edicts prescribing execution. It is a crime punishable by death to speak against the president and the vice president, but if you blaspheme against God, you only go to jail for six months. So the whole issue is that we must have an immediate reform of the criminal code. We have a program for this ... the INC has a legal department composed of Iraqi lawyers in Baghdad now, and we have produced a detailed set of proposals on how to reform the legal code, and I believe that there are 25,000 members of the Iraqi Lawyers Association. I believe that there are many of them who are not tainted by Saddam. There should be a process of choosing judges and prosecutors from this body of people ... Lawyers Association ... and they should have crash courses in training very quickly and we should get them going right away. Furthermore the way to get security going is the issue-to have this Iraqi security force which can be on the streets within weeks ... say six weeks. And which can actually make a big difference in providing security, and this will solve many of the problems ... and banking problems, water problems, the electricity problems.

Also I should mention here ... I have sort of some mild reproach to human rights organizations: they've not taken sufficient interest in the mass graves that were found. There were mass graves that were found quite early, and we kept talking about them, but many of the human rights organizations focused, for example, on issues such as evicting some Palestinians from their homes rather then on mass graves. And I think this should be remedied very quickly. There should be teams, forensic teams, sent. The only forensic team I know of now is the British team that came. We should build a national database about missing persons. We should work on these things immediately ... very quickly. The mass graves in Iraq are much bigger than people expected. They are in the hundreds of thousands. One of the sights I saw in the Howeem mass grave 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 on the dust. One woman clad in black ... she was 50 probably, looked 80 ... she's looking at me and says, "Who is my son? Which is my son?" These scenes are repeated in many, many parts of Iraq, and we need much more focus on that. I don't think there has been sufficient coverage of the mass graves, and I don't think that this has been dealt with in a humane and reasonable way.

The Iraqi people ... I mean, weapons of mass destruction are important to Americans, but the mass graves are far more important to Iraqis. Even the Kuwaiti prisoners, which are the subject of numerous Security Council resolutions, when we found them, we found a person who was involved in actually transporting the dead bodies of the Kuwaitis after being executed in October of '91. He gave us exact data of where they were. We took a GPS machine, and we located the thing. We kept telling people about it for a week. Nobody was interested. We sent digging equipment to dig them up and we found them exactly what he said. Kuwaitis came and took samples. Now it's probably a month, and nobody said very much whether those were the Kuwaitis or not, although they have a big database. I suspect they were, otherwise you would have heard about it, that we also again provided inaccurate information.

TB: Dr. Chalabi, are you being critical of the administration and Ambassador Bremer and the military authorities in Iraq for not assigning enough urgency to the discovery of mass graves and excavating them in an orderly and scientific fashion?

AC: No, I am not being critical of the U.S. military authorities. The U.S. military authorities have too much on their plate. They are ...

TB: Well, that's a criticism in and of itself, then.

AC: No, it's not, because you see they are more concerned with the living than the dead. The Iraqi people are concerned with the dead because they want to put final closure on the suffering of the families which have had missing people for decades, and I think that our bodies, other countries ... this is not a military issue. It's a civil issue. It is an issue of human rights. It's an issue that has been swept under ... some people talk about Saddam's violations. The United Nations, for example, never took the step of serious investigating missing persons in Iraq and never worked in any diligent way to pass a resolution to create a special tribunal for trying Saddam and his gang for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

TB: David Phillips.

David Phillips [DP]: The Coalition Provisional Authority has announced the creation of a constitutional commission. Are Iraqis going to participate in that, or will the constitution be crafted by international experts? Your yourself have been a champion from the Salah Hadeen Declaration through the London Conference of the Federal Structure for Iraq's Future. Is federalism the system of governance that will prevail?

AC: The Iraqis will participate in a constitutional commission. Unfortunately, the way the constitution commission has been chosen detracts from its credibility. I believe that a constitutional commission should be chosen through the process I described earlier of a provisional national assembly where Iraqis actually feel that they are choosing this constitutional commission. It's very important to get the constitution right. It is very important that the constitution is an issue of unity rather than an issue of discord.

The constitution in Iraq has many problems in it. First of all, it has the problem of safeguarding minority rights. The Kurds are a vocal and large minority, but there are other minorities. Some of them fear oppression by the Kurds, such as the Turkomen and sometimes the Assyrians. The Kurds fear oppression by Arabs. Now there are other communities in Iraq ... in western Iraq and northern Iraq ... of Arabs who fear that they will be dispossessed by the majority in the south. All these issues have to be dealt with by Iraqis who are adequately representative of the communities that they come from. The other issue is the issue of the structure of government. The INC's belief is that the federal structure should be the form of government that will put Iraq together. However, I am not for a federation based on ethnic lines. I think that this kind of federation will not be solution for Iraq. But I strongly believe that a federal structure based on administrative and geographic lines with strong powers for the federated states will be the best solution for Iraq.

TB: We have a question from the first daughter, Holly Peterson over there.

Holly Peterson [HP]: All right, thanks, Tom. Holly Peterson from Newsweek magazine. I have a follow-up on weapons of mass destruction. What was the exact nature of the evidence you gave to the U.S. government about weapons of mass destruction? And since you relied heavily on defectors for this information, and there have been reported cases that the defectors were only giving portions of the truth, how did you corroborate their stories, and how did you know that they were reliable in their sources of information?

AC: Well, I'll be precise. We introduced the United States government to three defectors. The first defector was an engineer who was building sites for the military-industrialization complex, and he was a specialist in concrete injection, and he was building sites for what he said were weapons facilities to manufacture ... especially biological ... and also the storage areas where he was injecting concrete so that the thing will become proof against detection by nuclear measuring devices or chemical measuring devices. We met him, we talked to him for about ten days. We were persuaded he was significant, we introduced him to the United States authorities. They took him away on precisely December 17 of 2001 after he was interviewed by Judy Miller of the New York Times in Bangkok. They took him away. We have not seen him since. We had had no access to him, and they put him in the Witness Protection Program. We heard that they liked what he said and that he provided them with significant information. So this is one. The second one was- we introduced him to them in Amman, and he told them about the mobile biological labs. The third one they talked to him and threw him out. They don't want to speak to him any more, and he's still with us in Baghdad now, and no one has spoken to him.

So this is what we gave the United States. In other words, we did not give information that we said came from defectors. We never did that. What we did was take the people, introduce them to them, and let them decide through their own methods and resources whether these people are credible or not. And I believe we should have been more active in doing this, and they should have been more interested in what we have to say rather then less and would have perhaps been more helpful to them.

TB: Are you personally persuaded Saddam Hussein was actively engaged in a nuclear weapons program?

AC: Saddam never gave up on this nuclear weapons program. He was very interested in acquiring fissionable material for a bomb.

TB: But did he have ...

AC: He had a bomb design ...

TB: ...A physical program under way?

AC: Yes, I believe he did. He had the physical program of isotope separation.

TB: I'm right here. I'm sorry (Inaudible). We'll get to you next.

Ronald Shelp [RS]: Ron Shelp, Foster Partners. Would you care to speculate on Saddam's frame of mind? I mean, you've indicated that he somewhat has control over the weapons of mass destruction now. You wonder if he would commit suicide rather then be surrender his capture, or does he actually hope to go about the whole thing and ... how can I put this ... Does he want to commit suicide rather than be captured? Does he hope to provoke revenge? I mean, there's a lot of stuff you read in the process. Does he hope to escape? So forth.

AC: Let me say something to you. We have very credible information that Saddam on April 1 of this year asked for and got two suicide bomber vests. He asked the Iraqi mukhbarat for them. They were sent to him and he was trained ... he and his secretary, Abed Hmoud, on their use. We know that. So he actually can commit suicide if he wants to using ... and take others with him. I do not know that he will do it or not, but he did ask for and get those things. 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. I think that now that rate of casualties of American forces is close to one a day, which is not good, and they are handling the situation in the towns where they are being attacked, which are all of them in the west of the country, by using force ... I mean using more force than intelligence in resolving the problem, which will compound the problem.

I should also tell you that Saddam three…before the fall of Baghdad took a decision which was a continuing pattern over the past two years, I would say, to provide large funding to terrorism in Palestine, and I believe if he can he will continue to do that. What he was doing, he was funding terrorism in Palestine through people in Jordan using the Oil for Food Program in the medicine sector. He was providing funding under false contracts to people in the…profession in some Jordanian companies, which would make their way to the terrorism funding in Palestine. And he will continue to do that. I said that he put a bounty on American soldiers, and he's increasing it.

TB: Ambassador Holbrooke?

Richard Holbrooke [RH]: I've enjoyed your comments, but I'm a little unclear on what you...on the U.S. force structure. It seems that the United States is faced with a dilemma. You talked about pacifying Iraq. That will take more forces. But if you send more forces, the American casualties ... and by the way, it's not casualties, it's fatalities ... one death per day now. Many more casualties. The American casualties are going to increase if you increase the presence, and if we reduce the presence everyone believes the chaos will increase. So what would you recommend to Secretary Rumsfeld and President Bush about U.S. force levels ... not duration, but current levels. Do you want to see more troops or less?

AC: I would recommend immediately the creation of an Iraqi security force to be recruited ...

RH: Yes, but that will take time.

AC: No, it will not take time. We put together a battalion of free Iraqi forces which we handed over to the United States in a matter of ten days on our own without any help from them. We recruited these people, we vetted them, we gave to them ... they trained them briefly, and they're effective. And I'll describe to you what they did. They went into Shafrah, which is near Nasiriyah, which was a town where the people were very scared of the Ba'athists. They went in there, they captured 130 MILAN missiles ... antitank missiles ... from the French, they captured Fedayeen soldiers, and they captured much ammunition and the town within one day. The colonel who was with us said to me that this would have taken an American force much larger two weeks to do that. I say to you, training an Iraqi security force recruited with our help and vetted with the help of community leaders of non-Ba'athist, non-criminal elements, will not take a long time. There is skepticism in the United States. I can see there is skepticism here that this can happen, but I say to you try it. This will solve the problem if supported by United States troops. The United States troops should be with this force in the ratio of one American to ten Iraqis.

RH: And you don't need more U.S. troops?

AC: I think not. I don't think that you need more U.S. troops in Baghdad. The U.S. troops are not visible except in the sense that they have ... I mean, the way they keep security is that they have Bradley armored vehicles with soldiers milling about around them, and they are sitting ducks for terrorists. They don't need to do that. They need to be in areas where they are concentrated away from this, and they should let the Iraqis deal with the issues on the streets and provide heavy firepower when required. So I do not recommend increasing U.S. troop levels in Iraq. There are sufficient troops, and I believe once this Iraqi force is created, you will reduce the troop levels in Iraq rather quickly, and the third ID can go back home.

TB: My neighbor back here?

Jay Golden [JG]: I'm Jay Golden. Do you think the United States should immediately open up the search for weapons of mass destruction to an international inspection team?

AC: I don't think international inspection teams are very good at this. (Laughter). I think the United States should work with Iraqis ...

TB: But what about the credibility internationally to have somebody from outside the United States or from interested or associated with you to represent the rest of the world, in a manner of speaking?

AC: If you think that will add to the credibility, by all means, bring them on. Let them come, but what will they do? How will they be funded? How would they travel around the country? How will they interview people? How will they get to the scientists? All these questions need to be answered. I don't think an international team now would, if they have any sense, would accept to come under these circumstances. But if you think it will add to the credibility, by all means let them come.

TB: That seems to me not to be very hard. That's a simple mechanical procedure. They could be integrated into the efforts that are already under way there, and they wouldn't be ...

AC: Bring them on.

TB: Way back ... Nick?

Nicholas Platt [NP]: Nick Platt, Asia Society. Mr. Chalabi, there's a lot of talk about bad and harmful influences from Iran in Iraq, and I wonder how you judge these ... whether you think this is true, and more fundamentally, how do you feel we should be dealing with Iran as it relates to Iraq?

AC: The influences you speak of I think are mainly concerned with Iranian support for the Supreme Council with acronym of SCIRI, led by Ayatollah Mohammad (Inaudible) Hakim. It is interesting to note that the United States has been trying since the days when Martin Indyk was Assistant Secretary of State to bring on SCIRI into the Iraqi opposition fold that was dealing with the United States. There was a major effort less than a year ago to bring them to a meeting in the State Department and the White House, and they did come. The United States knew full well the kind of support that Iran was offering to them and the kind of logistical sustenance they were offering to their forces, the…Brigades. Before the war started, I led a delegation from the INC to have discussions with the Iranians about the forthcoming war and about the role of SCIRI and about the role of Iran in Iraqi affairs.

What we left the Iranians with was a clear idea that a military force, supported by them in Iraq, is unacceptable to the United States, we believed, and to ourselves, and we told them that our view is that Iraq should not be an area of conspiracy against Iran, and at the same time Iran should respect the independence and territorial integrity of Iraq and should not interfere in the internal affairs of Iraq. What the Iranians told us at the time was that they will not try to impose an Islamic government in Iraq and that they are not going to use force to influence events in Iraq either directly or through proxy forces. What the Iranians did subsequently was that SCIRI continues to be in…position, they did not pressure them or advise them to pull out, and that the Iranians also did not send armed Badr brigade across the border. What they did, they let the Badr brigade come across as individuals, and then the concern of the United States is that some of those Badr brigade elements reformed in Iraq and purchased weapons in Iraq. This is a concern.

The United States also was concerned with the procession of Ayatollah Hakim that came from Basra. There was a very interesting discussion with the American commanders and political representatives when Ayatollah Hakim wanted to come to Basra. They were offering him, or he…requested armed guards, but I don't think they provided them, finally, the coalition. He came across and his coming across, there were lots of pictures, of course, all of them printed outside the country, and that was of course cause for concern. However, if you open up the political process now in Iraq, these issues will be seen in context and they will be seen not to be threatening in any way. The SCIRI continue to be in the leadership and I think Iran is sufficiently warned that they are not going to do any drastic action in support of SCIRI in Iraq. I was very encouraged by the comments of Secretary Feith the other day in the Pentagon, where he spoke about the United States considering them, Mujahadeen, as a terrorist organization and ordering them to disarm. This was also a concern that the Iranians had that the United States may use these people against them. There was a ceasefire initially with them which caused a lot of concern both in Iraq and Iran…with the coalition at that time. So I think the way to do it is to open up the political process in Iraq and have a strategy to deal with the Shia. After all, the Shia of Iraq are at least 65 percent of the population, and they are not in the main fundamentalist or inclined to have Iranians control Iraq. One the contrary, the Shia are patriotic Iraqis, they are Arabs, and Iraqis have control over their affairs within a democratic Iraq.

TB: We have time for one more question here. We're right up against the time. Yes?

Matthew Schaffer [MS]: Matt Schaffer is my name. A foreign policy question: Do you see Iraq having a policy of engagement toward neighboring states, for example, what is your position on OPEC and oil? Do you see Iraq recognizing Israel? Do you see a policy of engagement toward religious states in that area? Maybe you can comment some, speculate some, on potential Iraq foreign policy.

AC: First of all, Iraq in the future, I believe, will abandon the policy of military adventurism that has been the hallmark of Saddam's regime. Saddam has put Iraq in a state of war almost the entire time his presidency. Iraq was in a state of permanent war for 22 years ... first against Iran, then internally, then against Kuwait, and then against the coalition. So that's off, and that also will impact on the nature and the structure and the outlook of the Iraqi military in the future. I believe we should abolish conscription and we should have a volunteer force and we should have a defense force ... not an offense force. Iraq must not be a country where plots are hatched against its neighbors or terrorists trained and sustained. By the way, another high-profile issue that we highlighted was the terrorist training camp in Salmon Park and the United States forces actually clashed with them and ousted them. This did not get much publicity, but in fact they found them and they killed many of them. And actually, not have terrorist training. Iraq is the Arab country which has a land border with Iran. In fact we have the longest borders with Iran. We should engage Iran. Iranians are interested in Iraq because Iranians are Shia, and they want to visit the shrines of the Imams. Six of them are buried in Iraq, so there is great tourism for us. (Laughter). But on the basis of mutual respect for the independence and not interference in each other's affairs. Turkey is a very strong partner for Iraq, both in economic development and as a political model. It's an Islamic state which is a democracy. There is change of government based on elections. We want to also work with Turkey to prevent any terrorism against Turkey from Iraqi territory. In the view of Arab countries, Iraq I don't believe will be in the forefront of Arab nationalism any longer. Iraq will not fight the wars of others any longer. The Iraq Arabs come to deal with will be a country which is concerned with itself, proud of its cultural identity as an Islamic and Arab majority state, but also recognizing that there are other significant communities in Iraq such as the Kurds, who have developed institutions and a culture of their own, which are part of that state, and they are very much part of the political fabric of Iraqi society, and they bore a great deal of the brunt of fighting Saddam.

TB: You're on the record as saying you would recognize Israel as well.

AC: Let me get to ... that's a little removed. Democracy in Iraq will be an example that the Arab population will look to with great interest. And some Arab governments are concerned about democracy in Iraq, not because Iraq will be an aggressive state against them, but rather by the example that will be set by a successful federal democratic state in Iraq. Regarding the recognition of Israel - that is for the future Iraqi government. My own belief is that Iraq should engage Israel in every way and should work to establish peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians based on what the Palestinians have agreed with the United States and Israel on. Iraq cannot be more royalist than the king, and Iraq will not be working to incite Palestinians against peaceful settlement. On the contrary, Iraq will be working to encourage them to come to a peaceful settlement. My own belief is that we should have relations with Israel.

TB: Dr. Chalabi, I want to thank you for your candid and insightful responses. (Applause).

AC: Thank you.

More on This Topic