Ahmad Chalabi, co-founder of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), claimed on Tuesday that Saddam Hussein, constantly on the move to evade capture, has offered a bounty for every American soldier killed in Iraq.
Speaking to a breakfast meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations, Chalabi offered no proof of his claim, but asserted that the bounty offer has been “spread around the western part” of Iraq where most of the recent U.S. military casualties have occurred. Attacks on American troops have mounted since the fall of Baghdad on April 9. In the past two weeks, Iraqi gunmen have killed eight soldiers and wounded 25, according to press reports.
The INC, made up of Iraqi exiles who had long sought to undermine Saddam’s regime, was once thought of as closely aligned with the Pentagon. Chalabi, who with his associates set up a headquarters in Baghdad soon after the city’s fall, said he was unhappy with the recent decision by L. Paul Bremer to scuttle plans for quick elections for a provisional government. Bremer is the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority currently administering Iraq.
With Bremer now planning to appoint “an advisory council” of 25 to 30 Iraqi leaders, it is uncertain how much influence the INC will have. The council will choose Iraqi advisers to government ministries and help organize a national committee to write a new constitution, Bremer said June 1.
Chalabi said that the INC was still hoping to help organize a “large conference” of Iraqi leaders to discuss the country’s political future and to pressure the United States to allow early elections, first for provisional assemblies in the provinces, and then for a provisional national assembly that would choose a provisional government and draft an interim constitution.
“This would be a democratic process and this would give the people in Iraq a more representative government and the United States would not be in the position of picking and choosing leaders,” he said.
Asked about Iraq’s alleged arsenal of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), Chalabi said he was still confident that “the weapons of mass destruction are in Iraq.” He criticized what he described as the slow pace at which U.S. authorities are questioning scientists and others who might know of the banned weapons’ whereabouts. Chalabi said the INC, prior to the war, had introduced three Iraqi defectors to U.S. officials, two of whom provided useful information to authorities on Saddam’s weapons programs. But Chalabi said the INC itself had no special information on WMD programs.
He insisted that the weapons would be found, just as Saddam would eventually be captured. “The key is to find the concealment teams,” he asserted. “These people will guide you to the weapons.”
“The weapons and Saddam are one and the same thing,” he said. When asked if he thought Saddam might commit suicide, Chalabi said the INC had “very credible information” that on April 1, Saddam and a close aide had requested and received suicide bomber vests from the Iraqi secret police. But Chalabi added that now, “Saddam is in a mind [for] revenge.”
When asked to comment on the number of U.S. forces needed in Iraq, Chalabi said he would “recommend immediately the creation of an Iraqi security force.” He said that, despite skepticism, such a force could be created fairly quickly and would allow the rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops, who he said were “sitting ducks for terrorists.” In the makeup of the security force, Chalabi said, “there should be one American to ten Iraqis. I don’t think you need more American troops in Baghdad.”
“I will not recommend raising U.S. troop levels,” he said. “Once an Iraqi security force is created, you will reduce the troop level in Iraq very quickly.”