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Interview With Ahmad Chalabi

Aired June 26, 2003 - 20:25   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Ahmad Chalabi's position in post-war Iraq seems to change dramatically with the political winds but an editorial in today's "Wall Street Journal" suggests that the fact that he and his cadre of followers haven't risen to prominence isn't coincidence.
The editorial says: "disarming Chalabi's free Iraqi forces after the war was a terrible mistake, another example of the State Department and CIA vendetta against Ahmad Chalabi."

Well, earlier today I had the chance to ask the former exile whether he thinks that's true.


AHMAD CHALABI, IRAQI NATIONAL CONGRESS: I think that I agree that the disarming of the Free Iraqi forces was a mistake and I think that this mistake can be rectified quickly. As for the existence of the vendetta, I don't know. I cannot comment on it.

ZAHN: Has the U.S. government lived up to its promises it has made to you?

CHALABI: The United States, President Bush said that the United States forces are liberators in Iraq. They came as liberators. They were welcomed as liberators. But then the United States government supported and passed a resolution in the United Nations 1483 which says the United States now is an occupying force in Iraq. This needs to be clarified very quickly I think and the United States needs to regain the moral high ground under which they came into Iraq as liberators.

ZAHN: Clarify though for us what you thought your role might be. Were you misled about what role you would ultimately play?

CHALABI: Absolutely not. There was no -- any specific role designed for me and I would not accept any role designed by the United States. We worked to liberate Iraq from Saddam and we have succeeded in doing that. This is the good news and this is the main news.

The other issue is that what is going on now, some disorder, lack of public services, inflation, these issues can be handled. These are the kinds of problems that can be handled and they are nowhere near the oppression that Saddam had on the Iraqi people. So, there was no misleading of me in any way and there was no specific role that was designed for me by the United States and indeed I said that this is not something acceptable a long time ago.

ZAHN: Americans continue to be horrified by the number of American soldiers who are dying it seems almost on a daily basis, British soldiers as well. I know you say that you believe that Saddam Hussein is still alive. You have talked publicly about him having some $1 billion in cash, that he has a bounty on U.S. soldiers. Do you think the U.S. government has underestimated that risk?

CHALABI: Initially, yes. However, now they have -- the United States now believes that Saddam is probably alive, highly probably alive, and they also believe that he has a bounty. So, they are now taking special care to handle this and they are conducting operations to root out his remnants.

And I think their intelligence operations are also becoming more and more serious. I believe that they're taking the situation much more seriously at this time after having not taken it seriously initially.

ZAHN: Given the amount of opposition we have seen to the U.S. government in Iraq over the last several weeks, do you see any scenario where Saddam Hussein could come back into power?

CHALABI: Absolutely not. Saddam is rejected by the Iraqi people. The Iraqis people are very, very pleased and happy that Saddam is gone from power and there is no way that Saddam can come back to power and the United States is well advised to tap into the enormous energy that exists in Iraq against Saddam and his remnants and to cooperate with their allies in Iraq in a more serious and sustained way to uproot any remnants of Saddam.

ZAHN: Meanwhile, Americans at home see their soldiers risking their lives on a daily basis. They see protests growing in Iraq against the American presence here. What can you say to the American audience tonight that would help them understand why you think it is justified to take these kind of risks with American lives?

CHALABI: First of all, the Iraqi people in the absolute majority deplore any violence against the U.S. troops in Iraq. They sympathize completely with the families of dead soldiers and the brave young men and women who are now on the streets of Baghdad trying to help the Iraqi people complete the process of liberation from the scourge of Saddam.

I think that the United States government is -- should cooperate with its allies in Iraq to minimize the casualties and to take American forces off the streets after establishing an Iraqi security force very quickly that can actually be deployed in the streets of Iraq that is commanded under the U.S. forces command in Iraq now and this force should be charged with taking control of the streets and the highways of Iraq and to participate in uprooting the remnants of Saddam this way. I think we first reduce the chance of American casualties. The second is that the Iraqis will feel empowered that they are moving forward to establish a provisional government that will take administrative affairs of Iraq into our own hands so that we can move forward towards a constitutional assembly and establishing a democratic government in Iraq in a short period of time.

ZAHN: Mr. Chalabi, we very much appreciate you spending some time with us on our program tonight. Thanks so much.

CHALABI: Thank you.


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