‘America can’t rule’
* Chalabi has the backing of the Pentagon, but doesn’t want to be ‘America’s candidate’
By Kevin Peraino and Melinda Liu
The Iraq Hunting Club, which features a run-down outdoor movie theatre and dilapidated tennis courts, used to be a favourite haunt of Saddam Hussein’s elder son, Uday. Now it’s the Baghdad base of Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress. Last week Chalabi sat outside near a giant bingo board with two NEWSWEEK reporters to discuss his political ambitions and his ties to America. Guards hovered nearby with Kalashnikovs slung over their shoulders.
NEWSWEEK: You’ve returned to Iraq after 45 years in exile. What have you been doing [since you got back]?
CHALABI: I’ve met leaders from every tribe around Baghdad—also business people, lawyers, justices and bankers. I’ve been proclaiming the end of the regime and the need for de-Baathification, emphasizing that this does not imply violence. I want to start the process of democracy and establish institutions of civil society. We’ve apprehended people on the US wanted list, interviewed intelligence officers and people involved in weapons programs. We’ve learned the extent of Saddam Hussein’s deception and the depth of his evil. We’ve collected tons and tons of files.
Is there a smoking gun?
There are smoking guns of many kinds: information about WMD, about [secret] agents, about the extent of cooperation and penetration and control of Arab leaders. We should be very careful in handling this information because it could cause major disruptions. We also found terror links and people involved in planning it. I’m not saying any more.
You have vocal supporters at the Pentagon. Is this an advantage or a disadvantage now?
Some people in America like me, some don’t. America will not determine who rules Iraq. Anyone who thinks America can rule Iraq is sadly mistaken. [They were] supportive of me to get rid of Saddam. I’m very happy to have US support. [But] I certainly don’t want to be a candidate imposed by America.
The propaganda of Saddam’s regime labeled you as a thief, and many Iraqis believe that you are one. Those slogans will fall by the wayside immediately.
How big a disadvantage is it that you’ve spent so much time in exile?
Very little. There is no daylight between my views and those of the Iraqi people.
You’ve said repeatedly that you’re not running for office in Iraq. Do you rule it out?
I’m not a candidate for any political position. Never say never, but I don’t want to do it. We want to break this cycle of authoritarianism that exists in the Arab world. We’re not interested in glorifying anyone.
But your supporters are starting to put up posters of your face around Baghdad.
I tear them down when I see them, and I tell people not to do it.
Do you think there will be a civil war?
There won’t be a civil war. [But] the US better get its act together quickly to restore public services and public safety. There are clearly incidents where US troops have killed Iraqis unnecessarily. People overlooked that in the midst of the euphoria of liberation. But the incidents should not be repeated. American troops are in fighting mode; they are not policemen. They feel they’re in a hostile environment. They must be taken away as soon as possible. —Newsweek