Interim president says Iraqi civil defense force could be ready

Wednesday, October 1, 2003

WASHINGTON -- The United States should move more quickly to establish Iraqi civil defense forces to keep order throughout the country, a process which could be finished in just a few weeks if it were given priority, the interim president of the Iraqi governing council said Tuesday.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Ahmad Chalabi said the best way to end the daily attacks on U.S. troops is to have Iraqis take over patrolling Iraqi cities and hunting for terrorists and Saddam Hussein loyalists.

"American forces, as quickly as possible, should not be in the streets, and more and more, Iraqis should be in charge of security," said Chalabi, who held the Iraqi council's rotating presidency in September.

The United States has so far trained only about 6,000 members of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, although some of them already are patrolling and doing other security work with American troops. The civil defense forces are among about 60,000 Iraqi police and other security forces trained by the Americans.

Even though he prefers that Iraqis work on civil defense, Chalabi said he expects American troops to remain in Iraq "for a long time." He said he would like to see permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq, though he said the council had not taken a position on that issue.

Iraq has "excellent flying weather" and several good airports, Chalabi said, noting U.S. air bases in nearby Turkey, Kuwait and Qatar and a recently closed base in Saudi Arabia.

Iraqis also want to take greater authority for the country's internal finances and want more say in how the U.S.-led civilian administration spends American reconstruction money, Chalabi said.

Chalabi said he has no objections to the $87 billion package of Iraq spending -- both for the U.S. military for use in both Iraq and Afghanistan and for reconstruction -- that President Bush wants Congress to approve. About $20 billion of that money would go to the civilian administration in Iraq headed by American appointee, L. Paul Bremer.

But the Iraqi governing council would like to have more say in how that $20 billion is spent, Chalabi said.

"We make no claims on these funds at all," Chalabi said. "What we say is, we should have further consultations with them on what projects the money will be spent on."

Writing a constitution for a new democratic government in Iraq will take time, Chalabi said, although he did not directly say the six-month timetable offered by Secretary of State Colin Powell was impossible. A spokesman for Chalabi said in Baghdad on Tuesday that six months probably wouldn't be enough to draft a new governing charter for Iraq.

One idea is to hold nationwide elections to choose the people who will write that constitution. While that idea would ensure Iraqis write their own charter, holding an election would take too much time because there are no voter rolls or election mechanisms in Iraq, Chalabi said.

He also said that he wanted a constitution-writing process controlled by Iraqis and representative of the country's many ethnic and religious groups -- but one that would be able to be put in place quickly. He did not spell out precisely what that process would be.

Chalabi is in Washington to shore up support for the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq in Congress and thank his longtime allies on Capitol Hill. Chalabi, a longtime Iraqi exile and head of an anti-Saddam group called the Iraqi National Congress, had significant -- and controversial -- influence on America's Iraq policy before the war, through his contacts in Washington.

Chalabi and defectors presented by his group have been among the key sources for U.S. intelligence claiming Saddam had chemical and biological weapons. No such weapons have been found, however, and critics have raised questions about the validity of the defectors' claims.

Chalabi continued to insist Tuesday that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. He offered no evidence to back up that assertion.

"There is a great deal of hidden precursors of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and weapons of mass destruction in Iraq," Chalabi said.

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