CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER 12:00 PM EST April 24, 2005 Sunday TRANSCRIPT: 042401CN.V47
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. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) 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 government? AHMED CHALABI, FORMER IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL MEMBER: We are now down to the 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 yet. 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 insurgency. 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 service. 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 issues. 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. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 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 Iraq. (END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Ahmed Chalabi, should members of the insurgency not be given amnesty but invited to participate in the political process, as President Talabani says? 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 together. 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 quickly. KING: Ahmed Chalabi, thank you so much for joining us today on LATE EDITION from Baghdad, sir. CHALABI: Thank you. KING: Thank you. . . .