Insight on the News - World

Posted June 13, 2003



 'Why Don't You Let Us Fight?'

By Kenneth R.Timmerman

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

Dr. Ahmed Chalabi, a member of the Leadership Council of the IraqiNational Congress (INC), told Insight in Washington that herepeatedly has proposed establishing an Iraqi force that would handlelooters, battle remnants of the Ba'ath Party regime and help reduceU.S. casualties, but that U.S. commanders didn't want to see Iraqiswith guns.

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

"There is no need to increase the deployment of U.S. forces inIraq to guarantee security," Chalabi said. "Building up the FreeIraqi Forces will allow the United States to begin withdrawing forcesand to cease being targets of terrorists. Why don't you let us fightthese bastards?"

Chalabi said he was making the arduous trip to Washington fromIraq "to thank the United States on behalf of the Iraqi people forliberating our country."

INC officials traveling with Chalabi said that a 700-man unitknown as the Iraqi Free Forces was used by U.S. Central Command(CENTCOM) during the war but was disbanded shortly afterward. Sincethen, field commander Lt. Gen. David D. McKiernan has refused toallow the INC to establish a security force, despite the clearbenefit for the United States. The INC also has pitched a plan tobuild an all-Iraqi force to "patrol the streets and patrol thehighways" of Iraq to Ambassador Jerry Bremer, who heads the InterimAuthority in Baghdad, and to CENTCOM commander Gen. John Abizaid. Sofar, neither has responded positively.

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

Speaking to Insight after a press conference in the U.S. CapitolBuilding with Chalabi, Congressman Christopher Cox (R-Calif.) said hewas confident that Iraqis would succeed in drafting a newconstitution and establishing the rule of law, but that he wascounseling patience. "History tells us that the way we did it afterWorld 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 twoyears to draft a new constitution. That is less time than it tookGermany or Japan. Time is needed for the process to gain legitimacyin Iraq."

Chalabi swept aside critics who argued that his group has "failedto take root" inside Iraq despite generous help from the UnitedStates. "That is total nonsense," Chalabi told Insight. "The INC hastaken strong root in Iraq. We now have 48 offices all over Iraq andtens of thousands of new members."

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

So far, Bremer has been leaning toward an appointed council thatwould "assist" the U.S. occupation authority in running Iraqigovernment ministries. Many of the officials advising Bremer inBaghdad are former State Department desk officers who vigorouslyopposed U.S. cooperation with the INC in the past.

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

Kenneth R. Timmerman is a senior writer for Insight.