Council on Foreign Relations
New York, New York
FOUAD AJAMI: Well, good afternoon, I’d like to welcome you all for a very special meeting of our Council on Foreign Relations, a meeting with the deputy prime minister of the Republic of Iraq, Dr. Ahmed Chalabi.
And, Mr. Deputy Prime Minister, and ladies and gentlemen, we’ve done this meeting on a very short notice, you should know, as I think you understand. We started the preparations for this meeting on Monday, and here we are. We chose an awkward time slot—Friday afternoon. We thought we’d have a couple of dozen people here—(laughter)—for an intimate conversation. And that’s the way we sort of hoped the speaker—that it would be a very intimate and small conversation. And now you see what we see. I guess it must be the presider’s draw—(laughter)—that really must have been what did it, you know. That was it!
Now, I’m not going to dwell at length on Dr. Chalabi’s distinguished background and resume. It’s in the handout that our excellent staff gave you. I’ll just say a few words about—just to situate this discussion. As we all know too well, of course, there are no elected governments in the Arab world. There are autocracies and there are monarchies. And there are autocracies which are well on their way to becoming monarchies. I’m not thinking, of course, of Syria and Egypt, I’m just—I’m speaking in an abstract kind of way, right. (Laughter.)
And Dr. Chalabi has come here as actually one of the principal leaders of a duly elected government with a nationally ratified constitution. And friend and foe alike—and heaven knows you have plenty of both friends and foe—acknowledge your tenacity of purpose, your work ethic, your commitment to your country, your determination to see Iraq out of this long night of despotism.
And I just would allow myself a personal recollection. Some 22 years ago, I did a short profile of an exiled Iraqi banker and mathematician who talked of up-ending the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein and of the domino effect that would ensue in neighboring Arab land. That was you. And today, your ship has come in. You are in your country. You competed and won a free parliamentary election in January. You’ve been doing serious business of governance since then as deputy prime minister. You’ve been in charge of the energy committee, you’re in charge of the contracts that the government awards, and now you are running your own list in the national election set for December 15th. And after some problems with our government, you are—right?—some problems with our government—you are back as a guest of our government. You have seen our principal leaders. And, of course, we didn’t want to be left out of the discussion, and so we’re delighted you could join us.
When I was with you in Iraq in the summer, I noticed that you don’t pamper to voters very much. You actually tell them things they don’t want to hear. I was there for a few of these sessions. I just want you to know I am a quintessential panderer. These people elected me to the board some years ago, and today I’m going to pander to them big time. (Laughter.) I’m going to pass up some of my questions and let them come in and ask the questions that they have on their minds.
But with this, I just leave it to you for a short presentation of the things that really engage you and the things that you brought to Washington. And you’re welcome, Deputy Prime Minister.
DEPUTY PRIME MIN. AHMAD CHALABI: Thank you, Fouad.
Ladies and gentlemen, I came to the United States as a representative of the Iraqi government at the invitation of the government of the United States. The principal subjects I came here to discuss are subjects of concern for the future of Iraq and for the future relationship between the United States and Iraq. Principal among them was the protection of the energy infrastructure, which is under serious threat in Iraq now; also, the Iraqi budget, the relationship with the IMF; the subsidies for petroleum products that exist in Iraq; the trade relationship between the United States and Iraq, principally in the sector of agricultural goods; the relationship between Iraq and its neighbors, particularly its two troublesome neighbors, Iran and Syria; and, of course, the security situation in Iraq in general; plus the fight against corruption in Iraq today.
Those issues are the issues that engage the Iraqi people as they look forward for an improvement in the quality of life that they have in the country. There is no need to remind anyone that the Iraqi people had suffered 35 years of a brutal totalitarian dictatorship which was in the business of murdering the sons of Iraq and looting the treasure of Iraq. The country was driven into a black abyss in terms of human rights, in terms of development, and in terms of freedom and expression. Slogans became a substitute for real progress, and the country had been at war for 22 of the 23 years that Saddam Hussein was in power.
Now the Iraqi people have achieved a very important thing. They have achieved freedom and they have also met every deadline that they set for themselves when they accepted to work within the Transitional Administrative Law. We had elections on January 30th of this year. We met that deadline, despite many calls to delay the elections. Nevertheless, we had them. We had a government that came out of negotiations between the parties that had the majority of the seats in the assembly. Then we met the deadline of drafting the constitution and putting it to referendum on October 15th. We passed that landmark. Then I expect we will meet the deadline of elections for the parliament on December 15th.
We passed a constitution in Iraq. The Iraqi constitution is a very good document. In terms of individual rights, I think it is better than any other constitution in the Arab world. In terms of women’s rights, it is also very good. In terms of ownership of national wealth, it is unique. It says that the oil and gas in Iraq is the property of all the Iraqi people in all the provinces and regions of Iraq, a fact which will allow us to pass legislation to actually give the people of Iraq, each one of them, a cash payment as revenue from the oil and gas wealth of Iraq.
This will be a revolutionary development. We will change the relationship between the government and the people. Hitherto, the government had the wealth and gave handouts to the people. Now we expect the people to own the wealth and give revenue to the government through legislation approved by parliament. And that way, we will change this oil—(inaudible)—that has befallen our country with the increase in oil revenues.
Iraq is a country which is rich in people, rich in resources. And Iraq is also a country which has echoes of great civilizations rising into the hearts and minds and the souls of the Iraqi people. May all of them remember that Iraq was the cradle of civilization, the place where agriculture was invented, and the country which had the first city in the world with over a million people—Baghdad. And we are proud of these facts. And—but they also decry the state they have been driven to. Can you imagine Mesopotamia, the land of the two rivers, importing bread from the empty quarter. This happened this year. Iraq had to import flour from the UAE. This gives you an idea of the predicament that Iraq lives through. But we expect to change that. We expect to change that in cooperation with the international community, working through the mandate that the United Nations has given to the multinational force, which has been renewed recently, and we expect also to work with international organizations, business, private enterprise and otherwise.
In terms of our oil wells, I believe Iraq has the largest oil reserves, bar none. And the reason that this is not acknowledged now is because very little exploration has been done in Iraq since 1960, when under the influence of the socialists and communists both, we passed Law number 80 defining our relationships with the oil companies. They went away, and they went and developed oil resources elsewhere in the Middle East and see the booms that have come as a result of that. Oil in Iraq now is restricted to 1.5 million barrels of exports a day. We can raise that rather quickly, and that is a plan that we intend to put into execution by providing security in the law for oil exports to Turkey, plus putting online oil wells that have been already drilled in the southern part of the country. And we also now have passed a resolution in the Cabinet proposing legislation to amend the law of the Ministry of Oil permitting downstream investment by private enterprise, both foreign and domestic. That is, we expect to have privately owned refineries in Iraq, and to have chains of gas stations. And that is a very good way to invest in Iraq.
We have dealt with the issue of the subsidies for oil products we were importing. Of course this is an issue I should explain. Why does Iraq need to import oil products, since it’s such a big producer of oil? The answer lies in the fact that Saddam has driven our refining capacity into the ground. We need 22 million barrels of oil a day—of gasoline a day, and at the best times, we produce 10 to 11 million barrels. So we important gasoline at the cost 55 cents per liter, and sell it to the public at 1.5 cents per liter. That, and the cost of diesel imported and kerosene makes the bill for us every month for oil imports—I mean oil product imports—$500 million. So, after discussions with the IMF, we have decided in the Cabinet to increase the price of gasoline, of premium gasoline to 250 dinars per liter, which is 17 cents. It’s a high increase for Iraq, but it is still a third of the world market.
But nevertheless, this is an important step. And we explained this to the people of Iraq, and they didn’t understand it. Poor people in Iraq do not benefit from these high subsidies of gasoline because they don’t have cars. Every time somebody fills their car with gas in Iraq, the government gives them a present of $30. Poor people don’t have cars. And we are going to also give—provide a safety net for the poor people by giving them a cash payment for—to take care of the increased transport costs that will ensue as a result of raising oil product prices.
We are also going to do the first distribution of cash to the people of Iraq from the oil revenue. We are going to do this in lieu of the items on the ration card that Iraqis did not get in the last year. There was a shortage of items; they did not get them. We’re going to—whichever items short, we’re going to calculate that and add them up and distribute them to each Iraqi individual, and this is entrained right now. This will be the first time that Iraqis get a share of the oil wells in cash. The funds are initially now quite modest, but we expect those to increase later on.
Iraq also, if it’s going to take off, has to fight corruption. The government of Iraq under Saddam Hussein participated in the largest international scheme of bribery and corruption in history. These facts were known to us in detail. But in December of 2003, we wanted to purse an Iraqi investigation through an internationally recognized auditing firm who had excellent forensic auditors, but we were prevented from doing that despite the unanimous decision of the Governing Council to engage that firm. We had a report prepared by the Iraqi government, which we discussed in the Governing Council, and we decided not to publish it. The reason being that we thought that if we published that report, doubts will be cast on its credibility. Doubt will be cast on the authenticity of the documents that will be used. But we generated enough interest to get the United Nations Security Council to create a commission under Mr. Volcker.
Now that the commission has produced its report, there is very little in this report that was not known to us earlier on in—towards the end of 2003. And despite the fact that this report is out, not enough is being done to deal with its consequences.
This report is so important that it crosses all borders and covers countries with all different kinds of political institutions and leanings. And it directly points the finger at very high-level people in many countries. Many—but several countries have taken this in different ways. For example, I believe the Indian foreign minister has stepped aside until the investigation in the—the accusations in the report regarding their taking coupons are cleared up. There are now indictments. Maybe—I think five individuals have been indicted in Southern District of New York for violations of the oil-for-food program. And there are investigations in a dozen countries already, and there will be investigations in Iraq.
And I want to tell you that the network of corruption, of financial corruption that was surrounding this program, that made it possible for Saddam, extended far and wide. And this network continued after the fall of Saddam and continued during the CPA and into the interim government.
This was a principal objective of this government, to stop the corruption. And we adopted measures, as a result of which I can safely say that 95 percent in the corruption in the contracts, which is the absolute majority of corruption in Iraq, has been eliminated. And Iraq has reestablished itself as a decent and credible trade partner in the world today. And we have taken decisions which people thought were very difficult or impossible for us to take, but they have—we stuck by them, and they work.
Iraq is a country surrounded by six countries with a total number of armed forces in excess of 3 million people, operating at least 10,000 main battle tanks and 15,000 pieces of heavy artillery, plus 2,000 fighter aircraft, in addition to various other military paraphernalia. Iraq has—the heaviest weapons in the arsenal of the Iraqi army is a medium-caliber machine gun. Therefore, Iraq is going to be in need of an international security net to make it able to deal in some equitable fashion with the tough neighborhood in which we live.
Now we have a multinational force in Iraq, which is mainly composed of United States forces and led by American officers. The question arises now: When can America reduce its military force in Iraq? Under what conditions? And the answer that keeps coming out is an answer which is, many people think, vague, and that is, America will reduce its forces when the Iraqi army is ready to take on some of the responsibility.
This situation must be addressed honestly and clearly. The Iraqi armed forces, although—have been multiplied in number, are not ready now to take over, on their own, security responsibilities. There are—they lack training, and they lack leadership in the middle level.
But last year we had almost no army. This year we have 117 battalions. So we have a base work from.
The armaments of the Iraqi army are mainly from the former Eastern Bloc. And the corruption in the Ministry of Defense had a negative impact on the level of armaments and supplies that exist now in the Iraqi armed forces, a fact which we must rectify.
I believe that we, Iraq, would be better off if we purchased American weapons. It is a puzzlement to me why we have not done so, so far. And all issues of price consideration and issues of familiarity are not serious arguments against—every officer of the Iraqi army I talk to prefers to have American equipment for the Iraqi army.
We will—we must develop an Iraqi army, and we must give Iraqis more latitude in the recruitment, in the training, in the equipment of this armed force. I believe this can be done.
And the answer to the question “When can America pull out?” is contingent upon us doing the right thing. If we do the right thing, together, I think significant American troops can be withdrawn from Iraq without causing a serious security threat during 2006, next year.
The Iraqi police now is less developed than the army, and there are human rights violations. We are addressing them, we admit them, and we work to deal with them. We do not deny them, and we do not sweep them under the carpet.
They are a result of the legacy of violence that prevailed, and we are training and disciplining the forces, so that Iraqis can have their right of habeas corpus, where no one is held without a judicial order from a judge. We’re addressing this issue.
Iraq’s neighbors are somewhat problematic. (Subdued laughter.)
AJAMI: You stole my line and my question. (Laughter.) Can I ask you to—
CHALABI: You want to ask a question? Go ahead.
AJAMI: Yes. That’s my question. That’s where I come in. Now, I neglected to say two things at the beginning. Please—you know, cell phones and so on and so on.
And then the second thing, of course, is that, as you can tell, this meeting’s on the record, so you don’t have to call Bob Novak and tell him what happened. (Laughter.) I don’t want to deprive you of this chance.
Dr. Chalabi, Dr. Ahmed, I think it was very interesting—and it was a signature move of yours, because I think you sort of like living dangerously sometimes; I’ve known you a long time, and I can say this to you—that before you came to Washington, you went to Iran. Now, that’s kind of an interesting move in that before coming to Washington, you go to Tehran. So what exactly took you to Tehran? And what did you tell the Iranians? And what was the purpose of your visit? And if you like to make news and break news, if you carried a message from Tehran to Washington, we all here would love to share that message with you. (Laughter.)
CHALABI: First of all, I did not carry a message. I’m a bad postman; I’m no good at it. No message was carried. I was invited by the government of Iran to visit Iran. Actually, I was invited by Mr. Larijani, a man who is charge of national security in Iran. I met with him and with the president and the foreign minister of Iran, and it was a visit of 36 hours.
I went to Iran. I accept the invitation before coming to Washington because I wanted to clarify to the Iranian government three things. First, Iraq rejects the idea that it should be the battleground between the United States and Iran. We do not want this to happen. I also told them that we want to have good, wide-ranging, transparent relationships with them as two independent states respecting each other and not intervening in the internal affairs of the other. I also wanted to tell them that we have a strategic relationship with the United States, and that we need to have this relationship continue in the foreseeable future.
Their response was positive. They understood the situation, and they understood that we are serious in our position, because over the past few months, we have shown that we are not going to let the situation escalate and proliferate because of the tension between Iran and the United States and now Iran and Britain. That is why I went to Iran.
AJAMI: Now last time, in the elections of January 30, you ran on the United Iraqi list, and—
CHALABI: United Iraqi Alliance list.
AJAMI: Exactly. Exactly. And that list—you were even one of the moving forces behind creating that list, and we—at a distance, we see that that list—that was the list that had the blessing of Grand Ayatollah Sistani. Now, you are running on your own; you have your own list. You told me—how many candidates do you have on that?
CHALABI: Four hundred and ten.
AJAMI: Okay. So why the break with the United Iraqi Alliance? And what do you expect—I mean, what would be a good outcome for you on December 15th, but why the break?
CHALABI: When I first met Ayatollah Sistani in May of 2003, he asked me a question. He said, “My dear, are the Americans going to write the constitution of Iraq as they wrote the constitution of Japan after the Second World War?” I told him, no, if we act in a responsible way. He said, “Do you agree that the constitution of Iraq should be written by a body elected freely by the Iraqi people?” I said, “yes.”
Taking that conversation forward, I and others called for the sovereignty of Iraq to be restored to Iraqis as early as July, after the formation of the Governing Council. I carried this message to the United States when I came here in—on September of 2003 to give Iraq’s speech to the United Nations. I was chairman of the Governing Council then, and I also worked hard with other leaders in Iraq to persuade the United States to grant sovereignty to Iraq. And that is how we came about the 15th November agreement.
The initial plan was to write a constitution, to have elections and then to have then sovereignty. We stood that plan on its head, so it’s backwards. We had sovereignty, then we had elections, then we had a constitution, which is the right order. Now, we created the United Iraqi Alliance to contest the elections of 2005 January 30th because we required a strong majority, so that it will be the dynamo that would produce the constitution. That has been done, that has been achieved, and the constitution is approved. We are on safe grounds there.
Now, Ayatollah Sistani has declared unequivocally that he will not support a list. He will not support any candidate, and he will not support any party. Now, Fouad, you sat and listened to Ayatollah Sistani for 45 minutes during last summer, and you saw—
AJAMI: As I told everyone I ran into, including my neighbors, the newspaper vendors; every human being I met knew about that.
CHALABI: Okay. Now, you saw that this man is not interested in political power and political manipulation. That’s the last thing on his mind that he wants to do that. In fact, he rejects it, and he was persuaded with difficulty to support the process by giving clear indications of his views. It is not in his doctrine to intervene in the minutia of politics or to determine what government and pick and choose among leaders, and he only did support the voting and the constitution, because he felt it was in the historical interest of the nation of Iraq and its people that he should do so and use his enormous prestige.
After this has been achieved and after the position has become clear, we decided to run an independent list, because in Iraq, there’s a large constituency of Muslims who are believers, who respect Ayatollah Sistani and his authority, but who reject or not—who do not subscribe to the theory of Islamic government or Islamic republic. Those people need a choice, and we intend to give them that choice with our list. We parted from the alliance amicably. We respect their views, and we will work with them, as we will, indeed, work with other political groups and lists in the new parliament. And I am calling for a government of national unity in Iraq after the elections so that we can achieve the common aims that are required now with maximum political support.
AJAMI: Thank you.
Again, in the interest of popularity with all of you, that is it for me. And I know everyone’s name, of course, it goes without saying. But it would be helpful if you just repeat it, and wait for a mike, and you could please comment.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. George Schwab, National Committee on American Foreign Policy. Thank you very much for your exhaustive presentation. The question I have, do you have a strategy that you can enlighten us on how to contain and eliminate the al Qaeda threat and terrorism?
CHALABI: Yes. The violence and the terrorism in Iraq thrives on four components. First is the network and the money of the old Ba’athist leadership; second, the supply of Islamic jihadists who come under the general heading of al Qaeda; third, encouragement and support, either tacit or explicit, from Arab media and Arab governments; and fourth, discontent in the Sunni community of Iraq.
The biggest misconception that surrounds Iraq is that Sunnis equal the Ba’ath party. That is not true. What we must do in addition to building a strong army and developing an effective intelligence service, is to give and assure the Sunni community, through its leaders, that they can participate in the political process in Iraq and they are equal to other citizens of Iraq, and will be persuaded that the new politics in Iraq is not about monopoly of power, but about participation and sharing. If we do that successfully and we assure the Sunni community in Iraq of these things, then I believe we have an important avenue to separate the terrorists from them, and they will be the people who will help us to contain the terrorism and to contain the remnants of the Ba’ath party.
And also, we must work hard to persuade our neighbors, particularly Syria, to cease and desist from being a base and facilitating the transfer of the people who are going into Iraq killing Iraqis. This can be done also, because I think now the time is right to get Syria to do the right thing for us. And I believe that it is not only the threats that will be of use to Syria, no, but also the fact that Iraq can be of enormous benefit to the Syrian economy if we open the pipeline to the Mediterranean through Syria.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. Maurice Templeton, Leon Tempelsman and Son. Dr. Chalabi, thank you. And talk to us a little bit more about the fault lines in your society, the fault lines that you inherited; that were there since many, many decades, between the Sunni and the Shi’a and the Kurds. How do you see the accommodation working? What needs to be done to make it work? Where do you see the flashpoints, the danger points? One point you did make, which I listened to with great interest, really, is that you said the oil wells belongs to the entire people. That is an obvious way of dealing with it. But there’s an awful lot of cultural things. There’s an awful lot of emotional things. There’s an awful lot of history. How do you—can you elaborate a little bit more on how you deal with it and what you see as the weaknesses there?
AJAMI: At the Council on Foreign Relations there’s also another way of asking this question: What’s your position on the Gelb plan for three Iraqs? (Laughter, cross talk.)
CHALABI: Iraq, as you know, is a state which was formed out of the rump of the Ottoman Empire. Iraq does contain Shi’a, and Sunnis, and Kurds, Arabs and Turkomen, and Assyrian, and a few other communities that you haven’t heard of, such as the Shabbat and Akkadis. All this—you see, Iraq is the final distillation of the remnants of the civilization of the world. We’ve had a long history. We are the first urban civilization, and we have these remnants of divisions in Iraq. We have Nestorians in Iraq, who sort of came into existence as a result of some conference of the Orthodox Church in the 4th Century. Never mind, we have all these communities. (Laughter.) Also, we had a Jewish community in Iraq—a large one, in fact, a very large one. And it was the oldest community in continuous existence because they came with Nebuchadnezzar.
We are now at a stage where we cannot resolve these contradictions by going into the past. We cannot persuade communities to work together by explaining the past. The past is horrible. We want to move forward.
Now, Iraq is now—Iraqi communities politically are driven—were driven, I should say, but less so now, but even now it exists—by fear. The Shi’a fear a resurgence of the Saddam regime and the Ba’ath to oppress them. The Kurds fear that the Arabs will deprive them of their rights again and submerge their identity. The Sunnis fear that the other countries will take revenge on them because they think that they were responsible for the oppression and for sustaining Saddam. All these things are somewhat true but mostly untrue.
But until now, despite the efforts of the terrorists and the Ba’athists, there is no communal strife in Iraq. There are acts, individual acts, of violence, but there is no large-scale communal strife in Iraq, for a very good reason. Sunnis and Shi’a in Iraq are mostly from the same tribe. There is not one Arab tribe in Iraq which is not mixed.
AJAMI: The old family was Sunni and became—
CHALABI: Yes. We are (tied ?). We are former—(inaudible). Our sheikh is a Sunni, but most of the (inaudible word) in southern—in Iraq are in the south who are Shi’a. The Jabur are the same. So there is no point going into the details now.
They are close to each other and marry each other and many times become—the Sunnis become Shi’a, and—with little vice-versa. (Laughter.)
AJAMI: And we can tell, yes.
CHALABI: And then the—also the Kurds in Iraq, which are of course the biggest tribe—the people say that they want to separate. The Kurds now, you see, have had a 13-year head start over the rest of Iraq, by being outside Saddam’s regime, and they have developed institutions.
But you see, again, please note: No Iraqi leader has called for separation from Iraq. There is a clear understanding that it is in the interests of the Kurdish community in Iraq to remain in Iraq, because a Kurdish state in Iraq will be in a very, very hostile environment.
Now the Sunnis of Iraq—why would they want to separate and become an appendage to Syria or Jordan, with no resources, when they are—have equal share in all the oil wealth of Iraq? That’s why we put this article in the constitution.
The Shi’a of Iraq also realized they’re also—they have a very strong commitment to the unity of the country, remarkable commitment, all over Iraq, in the Shi’a part of Iraq. They also feel that having a rump Shi’a state in Iraq will make them vulnerable to annexation and to influence and to loss of independence. So they are also committed.
But you see, these commitments are not enough. We have to have a workable solution where each has its—community has its level of comfort and actually can rest assured that the other communities are not going to impose on it values and faith and conditions that they themselves, as a community, reject.
This is the work of political compromise, and the constitution was brought into being as a result of these negotiations, gives us a chance to achieve this unity. It’s not—I’m not saying that we have guarantees of success. But we have a chance, a very good chance, with a path forward, if we choose to take it.
AJAMI: If you don’t mind, could you decipher for us Article 109 in the constitution? Oil and gas is the property of all the Iraqi people and all the regions and provinces. Is that—
CHALABI: That’s it. That means that everybody owns the gas equally, whether you are from Basra or you are from Mosul or from Ramadi or from Baqubah. Don’t worry that you are from a region which has no gas and oil in Iraq; you still are equal owner of whatever wealth there is. This is a very unifying concept. I will tell you there were strong and very difficult negotiations because many people said let the provinces own the oil wealth, which would have been a divisive thing. It would have generated fear among the communities; would have been also a way to say to the people who are from the poorer communities that don’t, you have nothing in this country, go away. But we—finally everybody saw that this text was the best text that we could have.
MR. CHALABI: A couple more.
QUESTIONER: Chloe Breyer, St. Mary’s, Manhattanville. Mr. Chalabi, now that we know there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, do you feel at all guilty in terms of your own role in perpetuating a false pretext for a war that has cost so many American lives and Iraqi lives?
CHALABI: I want to tell you that the fact that I perpetuated a case for war based on weapons of mass destruction is an urban myth, which is not rooted in reality, and it continues to have a life of its own despite the very serious investigations that were conducted by bipartisan bodies of the United States government, such as the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Robb-Silberman committee, which said in their report that the ISC had minimal impact regarding weapons of mass destruction on the United States government to go to war. Please read the report.
AJAMI: In the back.
QUESTIONER: Arianna Huffington.
AJAMI: No, no, no. There is someone in front of you. There is someone in front of you.
QUESTIONER: Scott Greathead, Wiggin and Dana. Mr. Chalabi, the number of American deaths in Iraq have now passed 2,000, but our government doesn’t seem to be keeping a count of the number of Iraqis killed in this conflict, military and civilian. Could you give us that number?
MR. CHALABI: The number of Iraqis killed in that conflict is not accurately determined, but it is more than a hundred a week. There are deaths that occur that is as a result of military action, which are not the most—military action by American forces. These are not the most deaths that occur in Iraq. But most of the deaths occur as a result of terrorist action. There is also deaths that occur as a result of lawlessness and political assassination of groups. But I would say to you this is the number.
QUESTIONER: Dr. Chalabi, welcome back to the council. I was very impressed with your remarks the last time you were here, and including this time. Also on the security situation, you know, the Israelis have been very successful, it seems, in eliminating suicide bombing against their population. Why have we been so unsuccessful in Iraq up to this date in snuffing out this type of tactic?
MR. CHALABI: The answer to this is that Israel is a very small place and the situation there is very different from that in Iraq. The Syrian border with Iraq is over 800 kilometers. And one must understand that the U.S.—the U.S. Army and the U.S. military are not geared for garrison duty and are not geared for static protection of territory. They are geared for military engagements which they win with decisive force and overwhelming force. So there is no such capability that exists now. This capability must be that of the Iraqis.
But you see, more than military force, we must have information. We must have intelligence. The—our enemies have much better intelligence than we do. This is a result of many issues. All of them can be addressed, and we must address them if we need to win. The—a case in point is that in—when this government came into being, there was no priority assigned to protecting the oil and gas and electricity infrastructure. We succeeded in getting the multinational force to see that this was the priority, and now this is done. It’s a—they think it’s a priority. We succeeded in, also, exporting $500 million worth of oil to Turkey in June and July and August. We were expecting a counterattack, but we could not identify how it will come and who will make it. The counterattack came, and they were able to disrupt. In fact, on the 14th of October, the terrorists were able to bring down the entire electricity national grid in Iraq and stop it for 12 hours, causing a delay in oil exports of two days, costing us $160 million in the South. So these issues govern how we’re going to stop the suicide bombers—intelligence and the Iraqi capability to prevent infiltration from Iran, plus diplomatic and other pressure on Syria.
AJAMI: But don’t you think—I mean, just a point on saying they have more intelligence on the government than the government has on them—I mean, that’s a very alarming—
CHALABI: It is alarming. But, you see, it is very alarming at—we are alarmed. But—(laughter)—we—we—we need—we need to do—we need to act to do it; we need to change that, you see? We need to change that. It is—in Iraq, you also went to Musayyib in the aftermath of the murderous explosion there.
AJAMI: I think I’ll always remember that day.
CHALABI: All right, you went there. You saw the people. Do you think an Egyptian or a Saudi can hide in that little town? No. He cannot hide. If we get intelligence about somebody coming, they will be discovered very quickly. The same happens to be true in the west of Iraq. In fact, it’s more true there because they’re all relatives of each other.
AJAMI: Mr. Murphy?
QUESTIONER: Yeah, Richard Murphy, Murphy Associates. Dr. Chalabi, there are very few weeks remaining before the election. What is your estimate to—that any list can be put together with meaningful leadership of all three communities, particularly the question about the Sunni community, which is at the present time so suspicious of all other parties?
CHALABI: A remarkable thing happened during the referendum. The Sunni community voted en masse in the referendum. In fact, in Anbar province, the voting was over 90 percent of the registered voters. It happened that they voted overwhelmingly against the constitution, but they nevertheless voted.
Now, this tells you that the Sunni community has confidence in the electoral process. They thought they could defeat the constitution, and they came very close. On the second (body ?) of the constitution, the constitution passed by 80,000 votes. If they switch 80,000 votes in Mosul, it would have been defeated, despite the fact that 79 percent of the people voted for it. That seems like Ohio in—(laughter). The reason that they succeeded in Mosul and Nineveh, I believe, was largely due to the last-minute amendment in the draft that we made, which gave the Sunni community—or gave the parliament the ability to do an easy amendment to the constitution one time with a sunset clause and then we revert back to the more usual procedure.
Now, also whatever—whenever we talked to Sunnis and whenever we go to their areas and talk to them, they say it was the biggest mistake they made that they did not participate in the January 30th elections because they had not vote, and it was for us a very difficult process to choose—who to choose to represent them on the constitutional commission. And everybody had their own favorites and so on, so that was a difficult process. But I believe that they will vote. There are now strong Sunni lists, as there are national lists, which contain Sunnis in them now for the vote to come.
But I also would like to tell you that the Sunnis in Iraq, steps have been taken in certain areas around Baghdad and in Tall Afar to actually stop the violence not by defeating the Sunnis or the people who are shooting, but rather, by coming to an arrangement on the ground which gives a level of comfort through the deployment of Sunni commanders in certain units of the Iraqi army. This has been successful.
And you saw the fighting in Tall Afar of—despite the fact that there were 600 terrorists there—took a very different form from the fighting in Fallujah, because we engaged the citizens of Tall Afar, both Sunni and Shi’a, in a dialogue prior to the military action explaining to them that there will be a military action if they do not get rid of the terrorists and getting them to renounce support for the terrorists in a public statement and also getting the government to actually do things for them as they promised.
The result is that there were no civilian casualties in the fighting. Sorry. There was six civilian casualties in the fighting because of a car bomb, and there was no casualties among the forces that went into this town—the U.S. and Iraqi.
AJAMI: Mr. Chalabi, on behalf of everyone, I just want to express my appreciation to you. As you know, readers of “A Thousand and One Nights” tell you that Shahrazad stayed alive by stopping the story at a certain time and coming back to it. (Laughter). We shall do the same. And I just want to say one thing, I think you may be the only foreign leader whose daughter actually worked at the Council on Foreign Relations. So you’ll just have to come back to honor that special bond. But on behalf of everyone, we’re really grateful to you for coming. (Applause.)
CHALABI: Thank you.
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