April 24, 2005 Sunday

JOHN KING, GUEST HOST: It's noon in Washington . . . I'm John King, sitting
in for Wolf Blitzer . . .

A bit early I spoke with former Iraqi Governing Council member Ahmed Chalabi
who was involved in those negotiations about the new government, the deadly
insurgency and more.


KING: Ahmed Chalabi, thank you so much for joining us today on LATE EDITION
from Baghdad.

You are just moments removed from the latest meeting of the interim
assembly, trying to reach an agreement on the new Iraqi government. No
announcement of any deals, sir. What is the holdup to reaching a new

representation of Sunnis in the government and also on the distribution of
responsibilities within the cabinet. These are the two issues that are in
question now, and negotiations are going on.

KING: And when, sir, do you think those negotiations will be resolved? As
you know, one of the key questions is we've seen an escalation of violence
in recent weeks, and many say the post-election calm, if you will, has given
way almost three months later to a political vacuum, essentially encouraging
the insurgents, if you will, because there is no new government in place as

CHALABI: We need a government immediately, and the delay in forming the
cabinet has encouraged the terrorists, and I believe that we must move
forward very, very quickly.

KING: When you say very quickly and you say the disagreement is on the
responsibilities, what is the single hangup? Is it over one individual? Is
it over Mr. al-Jaafari?

CHALABI: No. There is no disagreement. It's a matter of negotiations about
the division of responsibilities. Mr. Jaafari is the candidate of the United
Iraqi Alliance List, which has the majority in parliament. And he has the
full support of the list, and I believe that he will form the cabinet.

KING: You mentioned that the lack of a government is encouraging the
insurgents. Another alarming thing to many here in the United States, and
I'd like your perspective, is that there continues to be criticism of the
Iraqi security forces.

The Pentagon from time to time says those forces are being better trained
and better equipped, and yet when we see the violence that we have seen just
over the past week and including on this day, sir, many question whether
those forces are aggressive as they need to be in rooting out the

CHALABI: The men and women of the Iraqi security forces are very brave, very
dedicated people. It is the leadership that is lacking. We need leadership,
and it doesn't come by reinstituting Baathists and Saddam loyalists into the

This has been done too much under the previous government. We need to have
desist from doing that. And we need to have people lead the forces who are
loyal to the new order, who are loyal to the Democratic government of Iraq.

KING: You say, sir, desist, allowing Baathists, former officers under Saddam
Hussein to take leadership roles in the security forces. You know full well,
sir, on that issue, you are at odds with the United States including the
secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, who recently traveled to your country
to warn against such a purge.

The Pentagon would say it is those officers with the experience from Saddam
Hussein's army who are beginning to help the security forces. You say purge
them out. Would that not extend the period of time it takes the forces to be
up and ready? And, in fact, then extend the period of time your country will
need U.S. troops?

CHALABI: I say that this policy has not worked so far. We have heard this
mantra for many, many times. Where is the security of these people are
effective? It is a sham issue here. The people who are doing the terrorism
are sometimes close to the leaders and the commanders of the security
forces. And the U.S. military admits that many times. These are not military

These are political issues. The Sunni population of Iraq will not be
confined to Baathists to represent them. I believe that there are Iraqis
from all communities who are not Baathists, who are victims of Saddam, who
can actually lead the forces. We are not calling for a wholesale purge. We
are calling for not giving leadership positions to people who are high up in
Saddam's pecking order in the security services. And we say that loyalty, if
it does count, it's very important to have loyal and competent people in
these top jobs.

KING: Another question, sir, facing the new government will be the issue of
amnesty. The interim president, Mr. Talabani was on this program earlier
this month. I want you to listen to what he said on the idea of offering
amnesty to those who have been involved in the insurgency but not those who
have attacked Iraqi civilians. Let's listen to Mr. Talabani first.


JALAL TALABANI, IRAQI PRESIDENT: We have some groups: from Iraqis, from the
Baath party and some people who were angered by some acts of Iraqi
government or police forces. Those Iraqis -- we can, I hope, we can reach an
agreement with them to ask them to come back to the Democratic process in


KING: Ahmed Chalabi, should members of the insurgency not be given amnesty
but invited to participate in the political process, as President Talabani

CHALABI: No amnesty for terrorists. No amnesty for the killers who continue
to kill and maim and blow up institutions in Iraq. I believe that those
people must be held to account. However, those who genuinely say they resist
foreign occupation and who have not committed crimes, those people we need
to have a dialogue with. And I believe also this is the position of the
United States. They say let us have dialogue with every one who has not
committed crimes and who has not killed, and who has not participated in
terrorism. If we are going to have a government that represents all the
Iraqi people, there are many people who have many misunderstandings. I think
reaching out to the Sunni community is very important. As we did, in fact,
reach out to the southern [Sadr] followers back in May and June and August
and September. And we succeeded in stopping them from doing the fighting and
coming back into the political fold where they have now 23 members in the
national assembly. They are now part of the political process. This is a
model we should follow despite the fact that many people at the time did not
approve of the methods we followed to integrate the Sadr followers into the
political process in Iraq.

KING: I want to be clear on this issue because I believe it is critical to
people here in the United States, especially the family members of U.S.
troops deployed to Iraq -- many of whom have been killed and maimed. When
you say crimes and terrorists, some in Iraq have said anyone who has not
killed Iraqis could be granted amnesty. Would you include those who have
attacked U.S. troops or is that protesting for an occupation?

CHALABI: The issue here is that anyone who killed in violence against the
Iraqi government and against those invited by the Iraqi government to be
part of the Multi-National force is not included.

KING: Help us, sir, understand, based on your best estimates today, how long
do you think the U.S. troops -- and you have had disagreements with the
United States government from time to time -- but how long do you think,
sir, your country will need U.S. troops on the ground?

CHALABI: This is a question that cannot be answered by giving you an
estimate quickly. I don't have a crystal ball. However, I will tell you
that, had we proceeded down the path that we had suggested two years ago, we
would have had better security and a reduction of U.S. troops now. The most
important thing is the issue of sovereignty. The Iraqi government must have
sovereignty. It is in the interest of Iraq and of the United States, working

Sovereignty means also control over the Iraqi armed forces, from recruiting
to training, to equipment, to deployment. All these issues must be under the
control of the Iraqi government.

We are very happy, we're very glad to have assistance from the United States
and from the multinational force. We cannot do without that now, but the
issue of control of these forces, especially on the recruitment and the
training, must be in the hands of the Iraqi government, because that is the
way to move forward, and that is the way to have this issue resolved. The
security and intelligence in Iraq are best controlled by the Iraqi
government. We need to talk about that with the U.S. government.

KING: Well, sir, to have those talks, you need a new government in place.
What is your best estimate of when you will have an agreement on a new
government, and do you have any doubts at all, sir, that that new government
will meet the August deadline to have a constitution in place?

CHALABI: Again, I do not have a crystal ball. The negotiations are going on,
and I do not want to make further statements, but we are committed to our
candidate for prime minister, Mr. Jaafari, and the United Iraqi Alliance is
negotiating with the Kurds and Kurdish list also, so that we can come to an
agreement to form a government. There is no question that the deadline will
be met and we will have a constitution, and we will have a referendum. And
there is no need to delay this process at all. This is the will of the Iraqi
people, and they need to move forward and get a permanent constitution and a
government elected on the basis of this constitution.

KING: And sir, finally, in April of 2003, you said, quote, "I do not seek
office." There is talk now that you hope to be deputy prime minister or some
senior position in the new government. What role do you see Ahmed Chalabi
playing, if and when this new government is reached?

CHALABI: I do not know what the outcome of these negotiations. It is a very
different matter from seeking office. The issue here is that it is a matter
of service. There is a need now for Iraqis to come together and work out the
problems. We must work out the various issues. One of the most important
issues that we must work out is the issue of public corruption, and I think
that this is impacting on the security situation, on the development issues,
and on the expenditure of Iraqi funds, and also on foreign aid, and I
believe the new government will have to tackle this issue head on and

KING: Ahmed Chalabi, thank you so much for joining us today on LATE EDITION
from Baghdad, sir.

CHALABI: Thank you.

KING: Thank you. . . .

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