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NEWS & COMMENTARY 2008 SPEAKERS 2007 2006 2005

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Interview with Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi

Harold's List
Al-Sharqiyah TV

The moderator begins by asking Chalabi about the forthcoming elections on 15 December and what he and the Iraqi National Congress (INC) list are counting on. Chalabi says: "We are not acting or counting on anything. We are working to convince the Iraqi voters that the INC list deserves their trust; that the INC platform is applicable to the issues of security, services, economic development, combating administrative corruption and enhancing Iraqi sovereignty; and that there are people who can implement this platform." Asked if he aspires to becoming the new prime minister in Iraq, Chalabi says: "I now aspire to becoming a member of the National Assembly and to working to render the INC list a success. As for what will take place after this, the National Assembly will be the one to decide."


The moderator asks Chalabi which candidate he would vote for. He says: "I am a candidate in the elections and cannot give my opinion on other candidates." Asked about the economic issues he will try to tackle, Chalabi says: "The economic programme I intend to implement is to increase the oil output in the next stage and we can do this. We have started in this direction and we believe that we can achieve this increase with God's help. We can increase the oil export by around 1 million bpd." Asked why this has not been achieved already, while he is deputy prime minister, Chalabi says: "This is because we need time but work in this field has already started and we have actually exported oil from the northern oil fields for some time and we will do this again. We have had a programme to increase oil exports by increasing oil production from the southern fields for some time and we are working on this." Chalabi then discusses the measures the government has been taking to improve the standard of living, including, among others, increasing the price of rice and wheat it purchases directly from the farmers and increasing salaries. Chalabi adds that the "government must increase oil output to be able to implement more projects".

Chalabi continues to speak about the measures the government is taking to reactivate the economy. He says: "I have just met a group of Iraqi businessmen who said that there is an active trade movement in Iraq and that the private sector's imports will exceed 2bn dollars in 2005." He adds: "What does this mean? This means that there purchasing power and people can buy these goods that the private sector imports." Chalabi says: "All this shows that the Iraqi people can improve their standard of living." Speaking about the ration card, Chalabi says: "As we promised the Iraqi people, we will pay monetary compensation for those staples in the ration card that have not been distributed during 2005. After the Trade Ministry studied the issue, we earmarked 610bn Iraqi dinars to be distributed to the people in the governorates in accordance with the shortage in each governorate."

Chalabi then discusses a project under which the Iraqis themselves and not the state will become the owners of the oil resources and the revenues from resources will be distributed equally among all Iraqis. Chalabi says that he also proposes the distribution of state-owned land to people for construction purposes. Chalabi says: "There is a great demand for housing in Iraq at present and there is unemployment. The state owns vast areas of land and the state can distribute plots of land to Iraqis in accordance with the law," adding that "the state will not build houses. Individuals will do this. For this purpose, the state will establish a modern real estate credit institution with big capital." Chalabi adds: "This project can be carried out in Iraq if we produce an additional one million bpd. We can then fund such a project - and can you imagine the impact this will have on unemployment when approximately half a million houses are being built in Iraq? This will end unemployment, and the labour force will be busy with construction, engineering works, planning and financing. All this will become an active part of the Iraqi economy and Iraq can then create job opportunities for millions of Iraqis, not through the government but through the private sector."

Relations with neighbours

The moderator then asks Chalabi about Iraq's relations with neighbouring Arab countries and world countries and what he wants these relations to be like. Chalabi says: "I want Iraq to be an effective member of the international community, a centre of stability and security in the region, and to enjoy good and close relations with all its neighbours on the basis of mutual respect, respect for sovereignty and non-interference in the affairs of other countries. I also want Iraq to have extensive and strong relations with all the countries in the world, the friendly countries. Iraq must be a centre of stability. Iraq should not be a base or passage-way for conspiracies against any side. We also want Iraq to establish economic relations and benefit from the experience of others in the field of development and in economic advancement. We can benefit from the experience of others and reach an understanding with them in this respect. I want Iraq to be a market for world investments and Iraq should have the chance to invest in the world."

Visit to USA

The moderator asks Chalabi if his recent visit to the United States was in his capacity as deputy prime minister or as an Iraqi politician. Chalabi says: "I visited the United States as a government official, as the deputy prime minister. I met the United States officials. As Iraqi deputy prime minister, I met the US vice-president, the secretary of state, the defence secretary, the minister of the treasury, the national security adviser, the minister of commerce, the minister of agriculture, and Democrat and Republican members from the Senate and the House of Representatives."

Asked about his meeting with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice after which he told the press "that the meeting was fruitful, while Condoleezza Rice declined to make any statement about the meeting. Why did Condoleezza Rice opt for silence about this meeting?" Chalabi says: "I do not know what Condoleezza Rice said and I did not know that she preferred to remain silent about this meeting. The meeting was good and fruitful and achieved many things. The meeting clarified important matters for us and the US side. I believe it was a very successful meeting." Asked once again to explain why Rice remained silent, Chalabi says: "It might be that the US Administration has decided not to interfere in the elections. They could interpret any statements she might have made as interference. I cannot say why. Rice has not made any statements after meeting Iraqi officials recently."

The moderator asks him about the results of his meetings with Donald Rumsfeld and the secretary of the treasury. Chalabi says: "I met the secretary of defence and we discussed the issue of reducing the number of US troops, the dates for the withdrawal of the US forces, and arming and equipping the Iraqi army. I told the US secretary of defence that in the past year we squandered too much money on purchasing, or trying to purchase, weapons from the Eastern bloc. I told him that Iraqi army officers and commanders now prefer to buy US weapons and Iraq can purchase weapons from the United States so that the Iraqi army can be better prepared and equipped to perform its tasks. I also spoke to him about the need to release people who are in detention camps run by the multinational forces in Iraq and the need to respect the legal procedures for releasing those who were not charged by the Iraqi judicial authorities."

The moderator asks Chalabi to comment on a statement by a senior Iraqi official, whom the moderator does not name, that the United States refuses to arm the Iraqi army or the security forces with good weapons or to let them have efficient firepower capacity equal to that of the foreign forces in Iraq, and that the issue of armament will continue to depend on the will of the United States. Chalabi says: "This issue is subject to change and is not fixed. The Americans have now become convinced about what we have been requesting, even before the war. We used to say that no interruption in the sovereignty of the Iraqis over Iraq should take place even for one day. We also called for keeping the Iraqi Armed Forces and not disbanding them. But the Americans were not convinced by what we said then and did not take any measures to keep the Iraqi army. They submitted Resolution 1483 on the occupation of Iraq. The Americans have found out now, just as we warned them, that the Iraqi people accept getting rid of Saddam but reject the occupation."

Chalabi continues: "We met Congress members. I met the chairman of the Senate Committee on Defence Affairs and a senior Democratic member on this committee and discussed with them issues related to the situation of the US forces in Iraq. The Senate approved a resolution saying that 2006 will be the year when complete sovereignty will be handed over to the Iraqis. The Iraqi forces, encouraged by them, will gradually assume greater responsibilities for security and for combating terrorism in Iraq. We welcome this decision and it is completely in line with our stand. We want to train the Iraqi forces to assume the responsibility gradually until the multinational forces withdraw completely and an effective Iraqi force is established that can defend this homeland."

Cairo meeting

Asked about his stand on the Cairo national accord meeting, Chalabi says: "I have my stand on this issue. I say that it is unacceptable for the Iraqis to meet outside Iraq while there is an elected National Assembly, not to mention that a House of Deputies is to be elected. I say that the Iraqis who discuss Iraqi affairs and Iraq's future should be chosen by Iraqi quarters through elections and not by foreign countries or parties that will name the Iraqis with whom they want to hold a dialogue." The moderator tells Chalabi that the Arab countries, represented by the Arab League, have chosen the Iraqi officials who will attend the conference. Chalabi says: "I say that the Arab League is not Iraq. Iraq is a member of the Arab League but the Arab League does not interfere in the affairs of its members and this is mentioned in the Arab League Charter. I would like to add: Why then should we have a House of Deputies if the Iraqis and the Iraqi leaders hold a dialogue outside parliament? Why hold elections if the House of Deputies is not authorized and cannot choose the people [who will participate in] the dialogue? I say that the House of Deputies or the current National Assembly should be the real venue for this dialogue. What was agreed in Cairo? There was a big difference between the interpretations of various parties. They mentioned, for example, a timetable for the withdrawal but did not set a timetable. What is the point of launching slogans without any content? I did not participate in this meeting for these reasons." Chalabi adds: "I support and call for dialogue and reaching an understanding. I say that the problems in Iraq, the security problems, will not be solved through the use of force but they will be solved through dialogue among the parties." He gives as examples the situation in Al-Najaf, Al-Fallujah and Tall Afar and notes that military solutions did not solve the problems in these three cities and that "the problems in Al-Najaf were not settled through violence, but were rather settled through political dialogue". Chalabi affirms that past problems in Iraq have been settled "through political agreement. I say that this is the course of action we must adopt. If we want to entrench security, we must have recourse to political dialogue and not use force as a first option."

The moderator asks Chalabi to explain why he was the only candidate to have asked the Baghdad Municipality for permission to display election posters. Chalabi says: "We abide by law and order and so we asked permission from the Baghdad Municipality because it is the relevant party and we respect the municipality and its role."
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