Insight on the News - World

Posted June 13, 2003

Original story

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 'Why Don't You Let Us Fight?'

By Kenneth R. Timmerman

After a U.S. Apache helicopter was shot down in northern Iraq on Thursday, a visiting Iraqi political leader told Daily Insight in Washington that U.S. field commanders have rejected proposals to establish an Iraqi security force under U.S. command that could have prevented this and other attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq.

Dr. Ahmed Chalabi, a member of the Leadership Council of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), told Insight in Washington that he repeatedly has proposed establishing an Iraqi force that would handle looters, battle remnants of the Ba'ath Party regime and help reduce U.S. casualties, but that U.S. commanders didn't want to see Iraqis with guns.

The INC proposal would create Iraqi units under U.S. command and supervision. "There would be 10 Iraqis to one American," Chalabi said. "All our units would patrol jointly with the Americans." Such patrols, he added, would greatly reduce U.S. casualties. Since President George W. Bush declared an end to major hostilities, one U.S. soldier has been killed by enemy fire in Iraq every day.

"There is no need to increase the deployment of U.S. forces in Iraq to guarantee security," Chalabi said. "Building up the Free Iraqi Forces will allow the United States to begin withdrawing forces and to cease being targets of terrorists. Why don't you let us fight these bastards?"

Chalabi said he was making the arduous trip to Washington from Iraq "to thank the United States on behalf of the Iraqi people for liberating our country."

INC officials traveling with Chalabi said that a 700-man unit known as the Iraqi Free Forces was used by U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) during the war but was disbanded shortly afterward. Since then, field commander Lt. Gen. David D. McKiernan has refused to allow the INC to establish a security force, despite the clear benefit for the United States. The INC also has pitched a plan to build an all-Iraqi force to "patrol the streets and patrol the highways" of Iraq to Ambassador Jerry Bremer, who heads the Interim Authority in Baghdad, and to CENTCOM commander Gen. John Abizaid. So far, neither has responded positively.

The attitude toward U.S. troops in Iraq changed dramatically after a U.S.-sponsored resolution at the U.N. Security Council acknowledged the United States as the "occupying power," Chalabi said. "We were told that Security Council Resolution 1483 was drafted by the State Department lawyers . But it left Iraqis shocked and bewildered. President Bush announced that the United States was coming as liberators, not occupiers. We don't think the U.S. should lose the moral high ground." The INC has been urging the administration and Bremer to make "a strong, clear statement" reiterating U.S. intent to help Iraqis move toward self-governance.

Speaking to Insight after a press conference in the U.S. Capitol Building with Chalabi, Congressman Christopher Cox (R-Calif.) said he was confident that Iraqis would succeed in drafting a new constitution and establishing the rule of law, but that he was counseling patience. "History tells us that the way we did it after World War II worked and the way we did it after World War I failed, so I'm counseling patience. Dr. Chalabi believes it will take two years to draft a new constitution. That is less time than it took Germany or Japan. Time is needed for the process to gain legitimacy in Iraq."

Chalabi swept aside critics who argued that his group has "failed to take root" inside Iraq despite generous help from the United States. "That is total nonsense," Chalabi told Insight. "The INC has taken strong root in Iraq. We now have 48 offices all over Iraq and tens of thousands of new members."

The INC Leadership Council, which groups together representatives of the largest Iraqi political movements, still plans to hold a national conference in the near future to select members of a provisional or interim government. "The Iraqi people must have a political process, immediately," Chalabi insisted. "It cannot be a U.S. process or a Pentagon process. It must be an Iraqi process that enfranchises the Iraqi people, not a hand-picked U.S. Council."

So far, Bremer has been leaning toward an appointed council that would "assist" the U.S. occupation authority in running Iraqi government ministries. Many of the officials advising Bremer in Baghdad are former State Department desk officers who vigorously opposed U.S. cooperation with the INC in the past.

"If you deny the Iraqi people a legitimate political process, then you open the door to those who speak about resistance to the United States as an occupying power," Chalabi warned.

Kenneth R. Timmerman is a senior writer for Insight.