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Jewish World Review Dec. 11, 2001 / 26 Kislev, 5762

Michael Barone

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'Go to the source'

Interview with Achmed Chalaby, president of the London-based Iraqi National Congress, Dec. 5, 2001 --
Q. Have you been in Washington awhile?
A. I just arrived today.

Q. Have you been to the State Department?
A. I went to Congress today, the Senate. I went to the Senate Republican Policy Committee.

Q. What kind of response did you get from them?
A. We started out with testimony to the Congress in 1998, in March. I basically outlined the plan we are using now for Iraq. As a result of this, after six months of this, Congress passed the Iraq Liberation Act.

Q. It passed it, but the State Department hasn't given you money for activities inside Iraq.
A. What happened is that the Clinton administration said, "No infiltrating," and they have not committed that yet. So out of the $97 million that was given to the president to use, we have gotten less than $1 million so far. We produced all the slots for candidates they asked for, and have spent on water purification, Internet sites, economic development, public relations, things like that.

Q. Do you have any hopes that the Bush administration is going to change its policy?
A. Yes. We do have hopes. We do have this famous letter that everybody signed back in '98.

Q. You had [Deputy Secretary of Defense] Paul Wolfowitz.
A. And [Deputy Secretary of State] Armitage and [Under Secretaries of State] John Bolton and Paula Dobriansky and [Natural Security Council Senior Director] Zalmay] Khalizad. Now they're all in good positions.

Q. So is this your mission here?
A. No, no. I came to talk to Congress about this.

Q. I gather there are people in the State Department and the CIA who think your group is not worthy of support.
A. Well, that's interesting. They're not supporting us; on the one hand, they say we're not worth their support and, on the other, they say if they support us to go into Iraq it will cause so much havoc that Saddam will go to war. So which is it? Is it that we are incompetent, or is it that we are too dangerous? The basic thing, I think, is this: We are not controllable. We do what we believe to be in the interest of our country, and when they don't do things that are of use to us, we basically tell them we're not going to do them.

Q. Like?
A. Like, they say, don't do any activity in Iraq now, because that would upset our effort in the United Nations to get smart sanctions going.

Q. This was General Powell's initiative last spring.
A. Yes. Which didn't work. And we say, we think that is going to delay us. And we are right and they are right. They don't like that. They say, don't make too much noise, because we're organizing a coup against Saddam. We say, the hell with that, the coup's not going to work. And the coup doesn't work, many times, once, twice, three times. It has been tried seven times. The biggest effort was in '96. We had specifically a penetration. I told [then CIA Director] John Deutch.

Q. How many people have you got in Iraq?
A. The issue is that Iraq is a totalitarian dictatorship. We keep a number of people who are active. But each one of them can mobilize tens of others. I'll give you a number now, who I can call upon right now to do things for me. I would say in the hundreds-that's apart, of course, from the Kurds. But if I go and have any company now, I can get thousands, tens of thousands. It's basically what resources are we given. Here, for example, the State Department says that we are not prepared to fund any activities inside Iraq-

Q. In November [8, 2001]-
A. Now, we have people ready to work, we have a group the United States ought to increase, both the level of activity and the level of people. I don't understand why it's such a big deal to let us have $300,000 or $400,000 a month in Iraq. Why is it such a big deal? This question is such a mind-boggling thing.

Q. What would be the effect of your spending?
A. It would significantly increase our activities there. It would significantly increase both the quality and quantity of information we bring out of the country. And it would be a serious threat and embarrassment to Saddam.

Q. You say you have hundreds of people now. To me, it sounds like it would be difficult for you immediately to serve the function we saw the Northern Alliance serve in Afghanistan.
A. What? There are tens of thousands of fighters, ready to go now.

Q. These are the Kurds.
A. The Kurds. You see, we challenged Saddam from the north. In '95 we mounted a military campaign against Saddam. We were successful, despite the fact that you didn't help us.

Q. So you feel that the efforts of a small number of people could be readily amplified?
A. Look. The United States is not doing very much now. We do not have the resources to actually take and hold cities in southern Iraq for a few days without the United States actually helping us. But if they can interdict the movement of armor, we can hold them.

Q. If we interdict his armor, presumably by air.
A. By air.

Q. So this would operate on a time scale even faster than the Northern Alliance got into Mazar-e Sharif?
A. I believe that. You see, the idea of what they are doing in Afghanistan-we brought the idea, we practiced it. We did it in '95, but they didn't help. Had they done so, the problem would be over, I believe. I mobilized in March of '95 a force of 16,000 people, composed of Kurdish fighters and Arab fighters who had defected from the Iraqi Army mostly, who challenged Saddam's military 38th division, the second and the fifth divisions in the sectors of the north, and the first corps. And we took every headquarters of every brigade of the 38th division. And the headquarters of the brigades. We could have taken the city of Mosul, but we were heavily discouraged by the United States. Although some CIA people were there, and I had agreement with the Kurdish parties to move forward, and the day we were going to operate, they gave me a message from the National Security Council. It says, the operation you're planning to do for the weekend has been compromised, and there is a risk of failure. Well, we were advertising it, but that was the whole idea. And the second thing is that if proceed you do so on your own responsibility.

Q. Which meant?
A. If you don't succeed, we're not going to help you. So I went ahead and did it, and that creates my problems with the CIA and the State Department.

Q. So you think if we applied the Afghanistan model, which you said you applied first in Iraq, that we could have hopes of significant military success in the north and the south no-fly zones?
A. Very quickly.

Q. What about the heart of the country, Baghdad and that area?
A. Well, Baghdad will then rise up against Saddam.

Q. How?
A. The people of Baghdad, most of the people in Baghdad are determined and opposed to Saddam.

Q. How do we know that?
A. In many ways. First, by the incidents on a daily basis. Every day there are assassinations of security service personnel and Saddam's intelligence service and members of the Baath party. Every day. You can read our newspaper and you see it. That's one thing. The second thing is that the quantity and quality of information we're getting from inside the country, from Iraq.

Q. By what means?
A. By means of travelers, by means of satellite telephone, by means of normal telephone calls, by means of faxes, and we publish a lot of that stuff in our INC newspaper. And it revealed that the people who are doing the repression, we publish a list every week. The third issue is the conditions in Iraq. Iraqis are normal people. They don't like it when they are starving, or when the government deprives them of education and healthcare. And also a very large proportion of Iraqis are Shiites and Kurds, who are repressed by Saddam, 80 percent maybe. Also, the travelers who come tell us the biggest concerns about the security of Baghdad is that as soon as there is any disturbance in the countryside, they are put on alert, and they surround large areas of Baghdad with their security forces.

Q. And that has adverse consequences for people?
A. Very much so. Random shootings, executions, arrests, the blowing up of houses-it happens very frequently.

Q. Do you believe Saddam Hussein was involved in the events of September 11?
A. Yes. I believe that there are more links that are publicly known between the hijackers and the Iraqi intelligence service than there are between the hijackers and bin Laden.

Q. How about the meetings in Prague [between hijacker Mohamed Atta and a high Iraqi intelligence agent]?
A. I believe there is a link between Saddam personnel and Osama bin Laden personally, when after a visit to Kandahar the [Iraqi] ambassador to Turkey was thrown out of there. We believe there were meetings in the U.A.E. [United Arab Emirates] between bin Laden and Sheeheri, with two hijackers. We want this investigated. We also point to the reports brought out by the defectors about the training of [in] terrorism in the terrorist training camp in Salman Pak [in Iraq]. We believe there are money links. We believe that the meeting between Mohamed Atta and this Ani [the Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague] [was significant], because we think that Ani gave him the names of the young Saudis who were the foot soldiers of the hijackings. Because they started coming right after the meeting.

Q. He had not previously had those names?
A. No.

Q. So he gave him the foot soldiers?
A. And bin Laden is linked to those. Atta's an Egyptian. There is no discernible link between Atta and any bin Laden operative. Also, nobody has produced a money trail, sending money to Atta by bin Laden. You see, it's really curious. There was a statement by the government of the central bank of the U.A.E. that says, the U.A.E. government has established that four transactions, totaling $100,000, were transmitted to Mohamed Atta by a money exchanger in Sharja, a city in the U.A.E. This is after he met Ani. Now, the government of the U.A.E. is perfectly capable of finding out who actually ordered the transmission, who gave the money to the exchange to do the transactions. I believe that if there was evidence that bin Laden gave the money, it would be all over the papers now, that they would have released the information. But they haven't released the information. Why? I don't know.

Q. Was it Iraq?
A. I will not say that. But I will say look what happened to [inaudible]. Look at the New York Times, 27th of October, when they said the U.S. government probably told the Czechs to try to bury the Atta meeting. Why is that? They know about the meetings between Sheheri and the Iraq in the U.A.E., they do. But why are they not saying it?

Q. And the answer is?
A. I don't know. I have no idea.

Q. Do you believe that President Bush has decided to go after Iraq in any way, shape or form?
A. I happen to believe this is the case, but of course I can't guess what the president has decided or not. I have no private information. But I believe that this is the case.

Q. Are you planning on this trip to see officials of the State Department, Defense Department, National Security Council, or CIA?
A. I came here to see Congress now. We'll talk, we'll have meetings.

Q. You've had them in the past, since September 11?
A. Oh yes. For 10 years the State Department came to this office to meet with us. I met with the National Security Adviser's office, I met with [Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen] Hadley and other officials of the National Security Council. I met with [Deputy Secretary of Defense] Paul Wolfowitz and with [Under Secretary of Defense] Doug Feith,

Q. What did they promise you they'd do?
A. They didn't promise us anything. They are part of the policy process, and they promised to support us within the policy process-

Q. They promised to support you?
A. Within the policy process, to do what we want to do.

A. [by Francis Brooke, American adviser to the INC] There's a frank acknowledgement among these people that there are different views within the administration, and they are making their point of view known.

Q. We're now facing issues about how Afghanistan is to be governed after the Taliban. One of the qualms some people in our government may have about your group is the question, Are these people capable of governing Iraq? What are you going to do? What kind of an Iraq should there be post-Saddam Hussein? How will you put together a government that will work, that will be stable?
A. What type of government? I'll tell you what our platform says. A government which is democratic, one that respects human rights and renounces weapons of mass destruction, renounces war as a state policy and fights terrorists. We also want a government which is open up to the world, and which also guarantees the development of civil society and freedom of expression. This platform is open. We've operated as INC for many years, and we operated in a quasi-democratic situation-an elective council and so on. And we want to govern Iraq in the same way. We want to have an interim government which will write a constitution, put it to referendum and have an election. After this, one of the bases of our constitution-we've asked for assistance in training the judiciary-we've got a judiciary now-and also in asking for training of military policemen, so that we can patrol areas that are liberated from Saddam and prevent chaos and vengeance. We want to do that.

Q. Can the Iraqi people operate in a democratic way? They haven't had much practice in the last 43 years.
A. That's true, but how long a practice in democracy did you have in Spain in 1975?

Q. Yes.
A. Of course we had an election in Kurdistan in 1992.

Q. Will we see a continuation of the boundaries of Iraq?
A. Nobody wants a breakup of the country, and we are committed to the territorial integrity of Iraq.

Q. Will you recognize the existence of Israel?
A. I have myself no problem with that. The Iraqi National Congress is committed to peace, and supports at least a negotiated process that the United States is supporting now.

Q. Will you have a problem with the Arab street? Are people in Iraq ready to accept that sort of posture toward Israel?
A. The Iraqi people are more interested in building their country than in fighting Israel. They can't be more royalist than the king. If the Palestinians accept this process of negotiation with Israel and peace settlement, the Iraqi people will certainly support it and will move forward from it. The Iraqi people are genuinely interested in changing their life. They have lost several decades.

Q. Would you run for office under such a regime?
A. I'm not-my job is to manage and organize the overthrow of Saddam. That's my interest. I want to be able to live in my country.

Q. We don't know when that's going to come about.
A. No, we don't. But it could come about soon.

Q. But you haven't had discussions of specific military actions?
A. No.

Q. You haven't had any discussions of a postwar settlement or situation?
A. No. I've had no discussions of the specifics of a campaign, but I've had discussions on the Iraq Liberation Act.

Q. Have you been asked about how many supporters you have?
A. We've gone over these scenarios.

Q. Have you shared intelligence or information you've gotten?
A. Sure. Anything that we think is useful we share. We share the information from the defectors, but we find it more effective to put it in the public domain.

Q. What else should I know?
A. You should know that we genuinely believe that Saddam is a big menace to the United States. He is possibly the only country which has used unconventional munitions, including against the Iraqi people in their wars, and also he has conducted himself as the world's worst terrorist. Starting as soon as he came to power in 1968. And he is determined on vengeance upon the United States. And we think that the Iraqi National Congress can rid Iraq of Saddam to the benefit of the world. We can do it along with what goes on in Afghanistan now, because we believe we wrote the blueprint for this operation that's going on.

Q. You wrote the blueprint? You transmitted it to the U.S. government?
A. I gave it to the public.

A. [Francis Brooke] General Downing said, as soon as he got there, this is the plan he used.

A. We drew it up in '98.

Q. What do you say to people who say we should go to Somalia, Sudan, Yemen first?
A. I say that none of these countries has a government which has weapons of mass destruction, chemical and biological weapons, and none of those countries has a terrorist organization approaching the scale of Saddam's terrorist organization. And any terrorist organizations in those countries are anyway funded and supported by Saddam. Go to the source.

Michael Baone Archives

JWR contributor Michael Barone is a columnist at U.S. News & World Report and the author of, most recently, "The New Americans." He also edits the biennial "Almanac of American Politics". Send your comments to him by clicking here.


©2001, Michael Barone