September 23, 2003


Iraq Council Head Shifts to Position at Odds With U.S. (PATRICK E. TYLER and FELICITY BARRINGER, Sept. 22, 2003, NY Times)

Ahmad Chalabi, the president of Iraq's interim government, is in New York this week to press alternatives to the Bush administration's occupation policy in postwar Iraq, he and his aides say. In the process, he may complete a personal transformation from protégé of Pentagon conservatives to Iraqi nationalist with a loud, independent voice.

In an interview today in New York, Mr. Chalabi professed gratitude to the Bush administration for toppling Saddam Hussein's government, but his specific proposals were directly at odds with the policies Washington is pursuing in Baghdad and at the United Nations. He demanded that the Iraqi Governing Council be given at least partial control of the powerful finance and security ministries, and rejected the idea of more foreign troops coming to Iraq.

Mr. Chalabi's strategy, he says, is to get from the United Nations General Assembly sovereign status for the unelected 25-member Governing Council. This move to lobby other nations for a swift transfer of some sovereignty is going down poorly in Washington, according to the Iraqi leader's aides. [...]

Throughout the summer, Iraqi leaders said they were being admonished repeatedly by their patrons in Washington to avoid a confrontation with Mr. Bremer. But guerrilla attacks, deteriorating security and, in August, the car bombings that killed more than 140 people have taken their toll on Mr. Bremer's strategy.

When France intervened this month with a proposal to turn over sovereignty within weeks to the Governing Council, one of Mr. Chalabi's aides gave voice to the opportunity.

"We don't want to come out in the open and pick a fight with Bremer," he said, "but the sovereignty issue is coming to a head, and it is pretty clear that a breach is coming pretty soon between the Governing Council and Bremer."

Another aide was more blunt: "We are going to find a place where we can pick a fight."

It seems unlikely that the Iraqi people will tolerate being ruled by Mr. Chalabi for any appreciable period of time, but it's good to see some leaders start to assert themselves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 23, 2003 12:05 AM
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