Global Policy Forum

Political Survivor Chalabi Reaches Out to Iraq Insurgents


By Jill Carroll

Agence France-Presse
March 3, 2005

Shiite secular politician Ahmed Chalabi, long known as a vehment opponent of Saddam Hussein, called for talks with Iraq insurgents in the latest twist in a controversial career built on reinvention. "We have already started this process, we are meeting with people who want to fight the occupation," Chalabi told AFP.

The political chameleon, accused last year of trading US intelligence to Iran after providing volunteers for the 2003 US-led invasion, described the contacts as being with "those the insurgents look up to" and not the actual fighters. "We've had several meetings. There is a genuine interest in working and cooperating together to end the foreign presence in Iraq so they do not feel they have to fight to defend the country against foreign occupation."

On Sunday, Chalabi met leaders of the Committee of Muslim Scholars, an influential grouping of Sunni clerics, thought to have links with the resistance, who called for a boycott of milestone January 30 elections. Chalabi's remarks marked a stunning change for a man who championed moves to wind up Saddam's armed forces and purge Iraq's civil service of his supporters in the first year of the US-led occupation.

Those tactics, which forced thousands of trained soldiers into unemployment, are seen by some Iraqi politicians and outside observers as having fanned the anti-US insurgency that haunts the country to this day. A member of the dominant Shiite bloc, Chalabi described the strategy of his United Iraqi Alliance as an attempt to wean away Sunni Arab nationalists from the influence of Saddam's inner circle.

"There are people doing fighting because they think they must fight occupation. I think those people can be won over to the political process," he said. Chalabi remained unrepentant, however, over his earlier efforts to root out Saddam supporters and backed calls by other Shiite politicians for a new purge in the interior ministry. The prominent former exile had himself been candidate to head a new Iraqi government but last week announced he would back Ibrahim Jaafari, head of a prominent religious faction, the Dawa party, for the premiership.

Chalabi has led accusations of corruption against the outgoing government of rival Shiite secularist Iyad Allawi despite longstanding graft charges against his own handling of his movement's finances in exile. He still faces an outstanding jail sentence handed down in absentia by a Jordanian court which convicted him of embezzling funds from the collapsed Petra bank in 1992.

"Corruption was prevalent under Saddam, under the CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority) it got worse, and under this government it got even worse, so there are major things that must stop," said Chalabi. He argued for a status of forces agreement with the United States to govern the presence of its 140,000 troops, as well as security contractors. And he lambasted the Allawi government for not guarding Iraq's independence.

"We are now a sovereign state. We need to act as a sovereign state. Otherwise the people will reject the government." Chalabi questioned the outgoing premier's decision to allow the US embassy a base in the heavily fortified central Baghdad compound which houses the Iraqi government. He said he had mended fences with Washington since their spectacular falling out last May and did not expect any long-term estrangement.

"Things like that happen when the US has to deal with a non-governmental organisation with some political and military component. It happened alot in history. "It happened with General de Gaulle. They were about to arrest him when he declared the provisional government of France in June 1944. Then things sort themselves out," he said.

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