Ahmed Chalabi always relished the spotlight granted him by his prominent role in advocating the downfall of Saddam Hussein, playing a back-scratching game with American leaders who had their own reasons for wanting to see the Iraqi dictator removed from power.
Now the disgraced Iraqi politician is garnering new attention by criticizing his former US friends, saying that the INC never wanted a military invasion of Iraq, that the Bush Administration rejected suggestions for an Iraqi interim regime in favor of appointing Paul Bremer absolute ruler, and that things would be much better now if the Americans had heeded his wisdom in the past.
But Iraq has not seen the last of Chalabi. In a recent interview with Asharq al-Asawat, selections of which appear below, Chalabi talks about his hopes for the future of his country, including under what circumstances he would like to return to an official position of leadership.
On INC's role in encouraging the invasion:
Our political work in the opposition and as INC did not push in the direction of war and of getting US forces in Iraq; we were calling for the support of the opposition efforts to topple Saddam Hussein. This is the meaning of the Iraq Liberation Act, which did not talk about getting US forces to change the regime. We did not call for waging a war against Iraq; we were calling for offering US aid to the Iraqi people so that they undertake the change process. However, our voice was wasted in the midst of the US political conflicts, and thus the war and the occupation created the largest historical problem.
On post-invasion governance of Iraq:
Along history, the process of political change has not necessarily meant that those carrying out the change are the ones who will shoulder the responsibility after implementing the change. There is a price for political change in Iraq that has been paid by those who carried out this change. Even the US officials have been involved in debates and have exchanged accusations over the stage of change in Iraq, the last of which was the debate between President Bush and Ambassador Bremer over the issue of dismantling the Iraqi Army. Dick Cheney said it explicitly: We were wrong not to pay attention to the INC opinion with regard to the formation of a sovereign interim Iraqi Government recognized by the world during the stage of change.
In the Salah-al-Din conference in February 2003, before the change of the regime in Iraq, we decided to form a sovereign interim Iraqi Government that would be recognized, and that would be a party to the process of liberating Iraq. The US Administration sent its Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad to Salah-al-Din with strict instructions to prevent the formation of such government. While we were committed to form this government, we confronted US insistence on not dealing with it; faced with the huge US military forces and US political weight on the international arena, we acquiesced. This is the reason we formed the political command. Less than one month after the entry of the US forces in Iraq, in the first week of May, in a meeting in Baghdad that included the leaders of the opposition, Zalmay Khalilzad announced that the idea of forming a sovereign interim Iraqi Government was a sound idea. Zalmay Khalilzad went to Washington to discuss this idea with the US Administration, but he was surprised by the appointment of Bremer as absolute ruler of Iraq, and that his role in Iraq was terminated.
On the current status of Iraq:
I am optimistic about the situation in Iraq. This is because the plan to impose the law has achieved good results. The sectarian fighting has been reduced, and also Muqtada al-Sadr's invitation to the Al-Mahdi Army not to appear for six months has helped in calming down the situation. Since the beginning of the implementation of the plan to impose the law, we have worked to achieve an agreement among the Al-Sadr tendency, the Iraqi forces, and the multi-national forces in order to calm down the situation in the Al-Sadr City; however, the agreement was not achieved because of the death of one of its engineers, namely Col Muhammad al-Furayji. Now, I consider Al-Sadr's invitation to be positive. Moreover, the reaction in the western regions against Al-Qaeda, and the tendency to confront that organization are an important factor in reducing the proportion of political terrorism in Iraq.
On the US performance in Iraq:
The US performance in Iraq is a failure. The United States has spent nearly 1,000 billion dollars in four years in Iraq, and then President Bush comes to praise the victories of the Al-Anbar Salvation Council, whose power and resources cannot be compared at all to those of the US forces. The United States has not succeeded either militarily or politically in Iraq. The United States mostly issue slogans and promote laws, such as the oil law, and the discussion of the Debathification Law, and the elections. All these laws have not been placed on the agenda of the new session of the Council of Representatives. At the political level, the political failure of the US Administration continues, because it still acts in its own way, which could be summarized in fragmenting the situation, and which is a US characteristic. We would like the new US Ambassador Ryan Crocker to succeed in his mission. He is a realistic man and a skillful politician, and he understands the Iraqi situation better than the others. The United States cannot succeed on its own in resolving the problems of Iraq without seeking the help of the Iraqis themselves. For instance, consider the withdrawal of the British forces from Basra; it did not take place because of security problems in the governorate as it is claimed. To say that security problems will erupt when the multi-national forces withdraw is unrealistic. The Iraqis can reach an understanding among themselves, and it is wrong to form new armed groups away from the Iraqi Government, and it is not permissible to form new armed militias in Iraq. National reconciliation ought to be established, which is a necessity; however, this should not be done merely as slogans.