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Interview with Iraqi Deputy PM Ahmed Chalabi - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Ahmad Chalabi has called on the Arab League (AL) to condemn the acts of violence and terrorism in his country so as to open the way for it to play a role in Iraq. He said the Iraqis have a non-cordial stand toward the AL because of what he called its lack of interest in the human rights issue during the rule of former President Saddam Hussein.

Chalabi”s remarks were made during an interview with &#34Asharq al-Awsat&#34 in his office in Baghdad amidst his preoccupations to form a political alliance with which to contest the upcoming elections. He asserted that he would form an alliance with Al-Sadr tendency that is led by Muqtada al-Sadr even though there is a warrant for the arrest of the latter in connection with the murder of Shiite cleric Abdul majid al-Khoei in 2003. Chalabi also defended the decisions of the Debathification commission and considered it &#34the protection of the Baathist from random killings.&#34 He also admitted that Iran has influence in Iraq &#34and we have to build peaceful relations with it.&#34

Chalabi said, &#34The AL had during Saddam Hussein”s rule a non-positive stand toward the Iraqi forces that were calling for respecting human rights and lifting the injustice off the Iraqi people. It did not have stands against what Saddam did when he used chemical weapons in Kurdistan and other areas in Iraq.&#34 He added: &#34The AL did not have a positive role in the change process, after this process, and the formation of the Governing Council. The AL received persons it said were opponents of the regime in Iraq and who were calling for an end to the occupation while the real Iraqi political leaderships were demanding, like in the past, from the AL to meet with them and back the Iraqi people”s causes. The AL did not have such a stand.&#34

The Iraqi deputy prime minister urged the AL to condemn the terrorist onslaught that Iraq is being subjected to and said: &#34The Iraqi people”s idea of the AL is that its approaches are factional and far from the Iraqi people”s concerns. It did not have a role in condemning terrorism in Iraq. We want it to condemn the terrorism but it has not done so.&#34 He added: &#34 Amr Moussa came to Iraq now on a reconciliation initiative while the majority of the Iraqi people are provoked by such proposals. They are asking in Iraq who reconciles with who? Will the victims of mass graves reconcile with those who killed them? Who is disagreeing with the others? There is something that is too far from the reality, namely, the AL wants to equate between the Baath and the Sunnis in Iraq and this is a non-existing equation. The Baath does not equal the Sunnis. The purpose of this process is to circumvent the new Iraq. The Sunnis are a fundamental part of the Iraqi people and should have a real role in the political process so as to achieve stability in Iraq. I say it for history and the truth that the majority of the Baath Party members were Shiites and not Sunnis.&#34

He stressed that &#34there is no way for the remnants of Saddam to participate in the new Iraq and this worries the AL. Some countries are also worried by the democratic changes taking place in the new Iraq. Iraq is a founder member of the AL and the one most supportive of it. The Iraqi army fought outside the country”s borders to defend the Arab causes more than any other Arab army. So why does the AL remain silent when the Iraqi people come under a savage terrorist onslaught and call the terrorists killing the innocent Iraqis heroes, resistance, and confronting the foreign occupation? The Iraqi people hope the AL will review its stands toward them and improve them.&#34

Chalabi defended the decisions of the Debathification commission and said: &#34The idea of Debathification came primarily to protect the lives of the Baathist. The Iraqis would have taken things into their hands and exacted revenge from the Baathist and the phenomenon of random killings would have spread had there not been a Debathification commission. This did not happen. Moreover, the commission”s decision did not affect 95 percent of the Baathist. The latter have remained in their jobs all over Iraq. Those affected by the commission”s decisions were members of the divisions and above who made up only 5 percent in the Baath. These have two choices: Either get a pension directly or ask to be exempted from the Debathification process. The commission has approved 14,000 exemption applications and these people were reinstalled in their jobs in the state. The majority of them are in the teaching sector. There remain the members of the branches, divisions, and regional commands (the higher levels in the Baath Party) and the commission is now looking into giving the branches” members pension salaries.&#34

He added: &#34What the Debathification commission is asserting is that the fascist Baath organization will not return and will not be allowed to exercise leadership in the new Iraq. This annoys them and the commission will lie in wait for them if they want to exercise any leadership role in the new Iraq, even if they appear under other different names. This has been confirmed in the constitution.&#34

As to the reason for not punishing the Baathist who had committed crimes against the Iraqis Chalabi said: &#34The Debathification commission is not a judicial body, does not arrest anyone, and does not overstep the state”s laws or the judicial authority. It does not have the power to confiscate funds and intrude on the people. Its authority is only to inform the departments of those who might be subject to the Debathification measures.&#34

Regarding the corruption files, Chalabi said: &#34Corruption was prevalent even outside Iraq under Saddam Hussein”s rule and we have started to uncover these files. We were the first to uncover the corruption in the oil for food program that affected the United Nations and big companies in the United States whose chairmen were recently arrested and pursued by the US judiciary.&#34

As to financial corruption inside Iraq, the Iraqi deputy prime minister said, &#34Financial corruption is prevalent and there are thefts of possibly unbelievable amounts of money. But I do not want to go into this issue in detail because it is in the hands of the judiciary and the honesty commission. We in the executive authority do not interfere in the investigation which is the task of the Iraqi judiciary that issues the seizure and implementation warrants. Our duty is to prepare the requirements and protect and back the judiciary to carry out its duties.&#34

He stressed,&#34We are going to open all the corruption files from the time Bremer governed to this day. I disagreed with the Americans when I was in the Governing Council because I used to raise the question of their disposal of Iraq”s funds. Bremer used to be annoyed with me. I refer you here to the report that US Representative Henry Waxman presented to Congress recently and in which he mentions unbelievable figures, like the $23 billion that entered the Iraq development fund from Iraq”s money under Bremer of which he spent $20 billion that he alone signed. This is just one example and there are many problems in this issue.&#34

Regarding recent reports about opening the files of the former defense ministry and the politicization of the issue, Chalabi said, &#34The issue of administrative corruption was raised by the honesty commission, the financial control council, and the judiciary. I have never talked to the press about any issue that concerns the corruption cases even though the issue is very important and the people are interested in it. I have not politicized any issue.&#34 He added, &#34I have not made any statement against any person and have not threatened or mentioned any name. I cannot arrest anyone and the government does not have this authority. We have a constitution and the judiciary alone can issue warrants for the arrest of people and the government only carries out its orders.&#34

He went on to say that his government &#34has succeeded in putting an end to corruption in 98 percent of the big contracts in Iraq. There is no corruption in the big contracts now. The contracts committee met 36 times since it was established in May of this year and will publish its minutes on the internet. It is acting democratically and transparently and more than 15 persons attend its meetings even though it has only six members. No contract above $3 million becomes valid until it discusses and approves it. This is a big achievement.&#34

Regarding the security situation, Chalabi said, &#34The Iraqi Government faced major security problems. The terrorist onslaught has increased and the security command in Iraq is not in the Iraqis” hands. Our security organs” commands are operating as part of the multinational forces and are under their orders. The security performance is not the responsibility of the Iraqi Government in the first place but the responsibility of the multinational forces and the Iraqi Government bears part of the responsibility for the security imbalance and the multinational forces a part too.&#34

Concerning the armed militias deployed in Iraq, he said,&#34We agreed on a program in the Governing Council to liquidate the militias and absorb them. But this was not implemented. Funds were allocated for absorbing the militias. This too was not implemented and should be implemented. I am opposed to the presence of armed forces in the form of militias that are outside the state”s control. The Iraqi people owe it to those who fought Saddam”s regime, either by absorbing them in the army and police forces or finding proper jobs for them in other fields.&#34

Chalabi admitted that there is Iranian influence in Iraq and said: &#34Iran has influence in Iraq because its border extends from Kurdistan to Al-Faw. Iraq too has influence in Iran. Al-Najaf has great influence in Iran and what happens in Al-Najaf has a deep impact on Iran. We should deal logically with Iran. If we say we want to establish good relations with Iran, then this does not mean that we want it to rule us. The majority of the Iraqi people are Arabs who are proud of their Arabism and do not want the Iranians to rule Iraq. But this does not mean we should fight Iran as Saddam did. We want to establish good and balanced relations with Iran. The talk now is either we should be against Iran or that the latter is controlling us. believe that there are only three independent countries in the world and they are the United States, China, and Iran.&#34

He went on to say, &#34We have to deal with Iran in the same way we deal with Turkey or Saudi Arabia. We must stop the flow of weapons from Iran and must be clever in managing the relationship with it without letting it have influence to rule Iraq. The stronger the rule in Iraq becomes the less influence other countries have, among them Iran in Iraq. We are a peaceful state and do not want to fight anyone. We want to build peaceful relations with Iran, all the neighboring countries, and all the countries in the world.&#34

Regarding his elections alliances, Chalabi said, &#34My political alliances are with all the Iraqi people”s spectrums. Look yourself and you can see my office full of politicians. Negotiations are underway with all the parties and this is quite natural.&#34

On his alliance with Muqtada al-Sadr even though there is a warrant to arrest him in connection with the murder of Abdul majid al-Khoei who had good relations with Chalabi, the deputy prime minister said: &#34Regarding the warrant to arrest Muqtada al-Sadr, the government can under the Iraqi law suspend the action on any arrest warrant for a period of time. I proposed stopping its implementation now because Al-Sadr has popular support in exchange for him declaring his innocence from al-Khoei”s death. The attempts by the coalition and Iraqi Government to execute this warrant caused many problems. Therefore action on this warrant should stop and we must deal with Al-Sadr tendency and Muqtada al-Sadr.&#34

He added, &#34I am proud that I contributed with my brothers to turning Al-Sadr tendency from an adversary that fought the Iraqi army and the coalition forces in Al-Najaf, Basra, and other cities last year into a tendency involved in the political process. This is a big achievement because we were able to change Al-Sadr movement from fighting the government into becoming part of it. They will participate in the upcoming elections in strength.&#34