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[casi] Ahmad Chalabi Interview

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This interview is very revealing, especially the section where he talks about his support for
100% foreign ownership of Iraqi industry and how long he thinks US troops should stay in Iraq
Peter KiernanNational Journal October 11, 2003 Pg. 3130

Chalabi: $150 Billion Needed Over 10 Years

 By Peter H. Stone and James Kitfield

 Long known as ambitious, controversial, and at times a loose cannon, Ahmad
Chalabi, who just completed a month's tour as president of the 24-member
Iraq Governing Council, has been very much in the limelight of late. After
working closely with the Pentagon for years, but alienating many at the
State Department and the CIA, Chalabi has reportedly caused much heartburn
recently among high-level administration officials. That's mainly because
of his efforts to push for faster transfer of some key tasks to Iraq's
interim government rather than waiting until a constitution is written and
elections are held, possibly next year.

"Ahmad has his own agenda," commented one former CIA official familiar
with his career. "He recognizes that right now is a critical moment....
Chalabi's done damage to himself in the past, but he's always come back."

A former banker who has lived in exile since 1958, Chalabi rose to
prominence as head of the Iraqi National Congress, which helped lead the
opposition to Saddam Hussein's regime and received millions of dollars
from the U.S. starting in the late 1990s. Chalabi was in this country last
month with one other member of the governing council to attend sessions at
the United Nations and to help lobby Congress on the administration's
request for some $20 billion for Iraq's reconstruction. What follows are
edited excerpts from an October 3 phone interview with Chalabi, the day
after he spoke to the U.N. General Assembly.

NJ: Do you think that the $20 billion or so that the Bush administration
hopes to get for Iraqi reconstruction next year is going to be adequate?

Chalabi: For next year, yes. But Iraq will need about $150 billion over 10

Iraq, of course, has a lot of oil. We'll require major investment -- about
$38 billion -- to get oil production up to 6 million barrels a day. That
will enable us to have total oil revenues, at current prices, of around
$40 billion to $45 billion a year, which would be sufficient to deal with
our needs.

Where are we going to get that? We need U.S. aid to start reconstructing
our infrastructure and to give confidence to foreign investors. We passed
a very good foreign-investment law, with 100 percent ownership by foreign
businesses of enterprises in Iraq. With U.S. aid and confidence-building,
we can get private investment to help us with development of our oil
sector, which will enable us to get the maximum amount of revenue over the
next 10 years.

NJ: Does the foreign-investment law apply to the oil sector also?

Chalabi: It very much applies to the oil sector. The only thing that is
prohibited is foreign ownership of oil from the ground. People can own
refineries, can own pipelines, can own gas stations, and petroleum-derived
industries. All these things they can own 100 percent.

NJ: Will most Iraqis be happy with this kind of legal arrangement?

Chalabi: They will when they see that there are jobs created in the
private sector, that there's technology transferred, and that investments
are productive and not speculative.

And when they see that our proposal for an enterprise fund of $1 billion
or more is to make loans available to Iraqi businesses because they don't
have capital as a result of the Saddam era. We need to do that, to enable
Iraqis to compete on a level playing field with foreigners who have

NJ: How long do you think that American military forces will have to stay
in Iraq?

Chalabi: Iraq is a country surrounded by six countries who have between
them more than 2 million men under arms. We have no army. We're not likely
to get one. I think the longer American forces stay in Iraq, the better,
but they should not stay like they are today, in the streets, subject to
attack by these people. I think American forces, after we're able to quiet
the situation down, should stay for a while, by agreement with a sovereign
Iraqi government.

NJ: Do you think we're talking about one or two years, or longer?

Chalabi: Longer. Surely longer.

NJ: What kind of level would be required after two years and for how long?

Chalabi: Maybe, 30,000 or 35,000 troops. I can't say for how long. An
American presence is important for Iraq's defense and for the strategic
interests of the United States in the region.

NJ: We'd like to ask you about your recent statements favoring a faster
transfer of some powers to the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council and
to certain ministries such as finance and security. Can you explain why
this ought to happen?

Chalabi: What I was talking about was sovereignty versus power. The issue
of sovereignty is different from the concept of power. Basically what we
seek is to, first of all, to give the Iraqi people a sense of empowerment
because they feel that they defeated Saddam with the help of the United

The second point is that we want to minimize or eliminate American
casualties and also make the American presence in Iraq more acceptable to
Iraqis. They would feel a great deal better if the Iraqi government and
Iraqi authorities had more and more power and sovereignty and then invited
the Americans to stay. That's the whole point. We want to show that Iraqis
are more empowered to run the affairs of their country.

NJ: But are you in agreement with the Bush administration that the
transfer of sovereignty and power should not take place until after

Chalabi: We never asked for total sovereignty before the elections.

NJ: Could you spell out your thinking, then?

Chalabi: My thinking is that Iraqis should have more aspects of
sovereignty transferred to them, such as control over Iraqi revenues. They
should share control. This issue is now in the hands of the Coalition
Provisional Authority. I think Iraqis are perfectly capable of running
their finances.  They should be partners with the CPA in doing that. This
is good for them and good for us.

We also say that internal security in Iraq cannot be maintained without
more Iraqi participation. That's good for the United States. It reduces

NJ: Can you foresee a transfer of power in 2004?

Chalabi: It can definitely happen. No doubt. But we need to work together
and do the right thing. I think elections should take place quickly, but
we need a constitution first and we need a census. We have to see how long
a census would take and how long a voter-registration process will take.

NJ: Some of your recent comments about moving faster with the transfer of
sovereignty seem to have created friction with the Bush administration,
according to news reports. Have Condoleezza Rice or others in the Bush
administration talked to you about this apparent difference?

Chalabi: We have really no daylight between our positions. We discuss
these issues, of course, because they very much concern U.S. policies and
priorities at this moment. There's a United Nations resolution out there,
and the president has proposed another $20 billion for Iraq
reconstruction, which we support. And they're trying to raise money for
the donors' conference to help Iraq, which we support. But all these
people fishing in troubled waters are wrong. We are working very closely
with the United States on all these issues.

NJ: There's been a lot of discussion about the upcoming donors' conference
and whether it will attract more funding from the international community.
Are you optimistic?

Chalabi: Don't hold your breath on the donors' conference. The European
community gave us $234 million. That's terrible. It's 1 percent of what
the U.S. is proposing.

NJ: Do you think that the U.S. and the Iraqi National Congress prepared
adequately for postwar reconstruction tasks, or were costs and other
problems perhaps underestimated?

Chalabi: >From our point of view, we believe we had adequate warning and
very good plans for the postwar period. Unfortunately, most of our plans
were not favored at the time. But that's all water under the bridge. We
need to work together and move forward better now. For the record, our
view and vision of what would happen in Iraq was exactly right.

NJ: Which was what?

Chalabi: We advocated for a long time the need to train a very large
contingent of Iraqi military police by the U.S. forces, so that they could
go with American troops into Iraq and take control of the security
situation and prevent the looting and prevent the breakdown of law and

NJ: What is your view of the prewar intelligence on Iraq's
weapons-of-mass-destruction capabilities? Did the Bush administration
exaggerate intelligence on Saddam's WMD?

Chalabi: I don't think so. Stories came out which are being picked on
right now. I don't know very much about this uranium yellowcake issue from
Africa that we've read about in the press. I don't know where this came
from. But the U.S. developed substantial intelligence about Saddam's WMD
capabilities, which was threatening for the security of the United States
and for us and for the region. All this is blown out of proportion. Saddam
had WMD and, with diligence and patience, it will be found.

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