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interviews: ahmad chalabi
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As the founder of the London-based Iraqi National Congress [INC], Chalabi, an Iraqi expatriate, spent more than a decade lobbying the U.S. government to overthrow Saddam Hussein. A controversial figure (he was convicted in absentia of embezzlement by a Jordanian court in 1992, and he has recently been a close adviser to the civilian leadership at the Pentagon), he is now a member of the Iraqi governing council. Chalabi and the INC provided Iraqi defectors to the U.S. government, as well as to the media, who claimed to have knowledge of Saddam's weapons programs and ties to Al Qaeda. News organizations, including FRONTLINE, used Chalabi's defectors in their reports. The credibility of these defectors has since been questioned. In two interviews with FRONTLINE, conducted in Baghdad on July 29 and July 30, 2003, Chalabi maintains that Saddam did indeed have weapons of mass destruction as well as concrete ties to Al Qaeda.

Let's talk about when you formed the INC [Iraqi National Congress]. It was suggested to you by people in the State Department, or the CIA?

No one suggested the INC to me. I suggested the INC to people. ...

At that point, you were a private businessman?

There was a lot of bad propaganda, false statements and absolutely outlandish claims that we supplied erroneous and exaggerated intelligence to the U.S. about weapons of mass destruction which were instrumental in getting the U.S. to go to war ... and I refuted that.

Yes. ... 1991. I was meeting a lot. I was everywhere. We had this committee, Joint Action Committee, of the opposition. I was in it in London. ... I presented a paper to that committee on strategy to get an Iraqi political movement going which can gain recognition and support, and help in Iraq, with the assistance of the United States.

So that was the genesis of the INC?

Yes. ... They wrote to President Bush. ...

Bush I?

Bush I. ... And they wrote to him saying there was an alternative strategy, and they believed it, and they're prepared to support any legislation required to pursue this strategy. Then they arranged a meeting for me with Richard Haass, who was the national security adviser for the Middle East at the NSC. I went to Haass. He told me, "I'm seeing you only because you impressed some congressman." I was supposed to meet him, I don't know, for half an hour? We stayed 90 minutes. I explained to him the strategy. He said, "You've given me a lot to think about." That was the genesis of the INC. I had outlined a program to him -- and he said, "We will support an Iraqi political movement that will come out endorsing such a program."

"Such a program." Such as--?

Democracy in Iraq. Democratic government. Pluralistic government in Iraq. Renunciation of weapons of mass destruction.

Haass says, "If you do these things, we will support you"?

"If you'll get a political movement which will adopt such a program." I said, "We are proposing a political movement to make a program." He said, "If you get a political movement with such a program, we will support you."

And then, for the next -- how many years? Twelve years?

Then we made the INC. They initially were very skeptical. But when we had the Vienna meeting and we were able to bring together all the communities of Iraq, we're adopting a program just like we discussed before. They were very impressed with this, and they arranged a meeting for the INC with Secretary [of State] Baker. The INC met Secretary Baker. Again, he was impressed. He asked for a meeting. He said, "Why don't you get everybody else?" So I said, "Let's have a meeting in Iraq." We had a meeting in Salahadin in [northern] Iraq, the first meeting of our opposition, which was an outstanding success.

But again, they [at the State Department] did not abandon their strategy. They thought all this was propaganda, and this was an effort for propaganda and the real move would be to make a coup d'etat against Saddam using military officers from the Baath. That was the conflict we had with them.

And it remains to this day.

Until this day. ...

There are people who have made the point that there are two men who are responsible for the fall of Saddam Hussein. One is George Bush and the other is AhmadChalabi. Do you agree?

If somebody else said it, I'm not going to disagree with them. ...

Well, you nagged the U.S. government for 12, 13 years to accomplish this task.

Well, I did. I worked very hard, because I came to the conclusion very early on that if the U.S. is not heavily involved in helping the Iraqi people get rid of Saddam, Saddam is going to stay, and his sons are going to come after him. But there was major resistance in the U.S. to get involved in this. ...

There are two kinds of resistance: one is the natural inertia and the natural inclination of the U.S. not to get involved in a messy situation in a Third World country, especially an Arab and Muslim country. This is one natural thing. There was another resistance, which was active. That resistance was of people who had interests with the current Arab structure.

Well, these people would call themselves skeptical that you can plant a democracy in a place that has no tradition of it.

Indeed. They would call it that. But this was sort of a ploy to cover up the real issues.

But they are concerned that what you're proposing here will not take, will not work. And you can't guarantee that democracy is going to flower and capitalism is going to flower in this country.

I can guarantee that capitalism is going to flower, and I can guarantee that democracy has a very good chance to flower here if supported properly.

Is it being supported properly?

It is supported. They are moving in the right direction -- but not entirely yet.

The United States built a case for the invasion of Iraq and the toppling of Saddam, based on weapons of mass destruction and imminent threat. Now people are feeling that they were suckered into a war where there was no imminent threat, that the real reasons for this war are far more idealistic and ambitious, and have to do with the transformation of the Middle East. Some people would say that you were the primary actor in that process of providing intelligence. What do you say to those critics?

I say to those critics, let them look at the facts. We provided exactly three defectors on the weapons of mass destruction to the United States. The first one was an engineer who was involved in building sites for weapon storage and development.

He was the expert in concrete--

Concrete injection.


They liked him so much they gave -- they took him into the Witness Protection Program and we've not seen him since December ... 2001.

That's Mr. al-Haideri.

Mr. al-Haideri.

Who you gave to Judy Miller of The New York Times.

Before we give him to the U.S. government, so that there will be a public record of what he said. This is exactly what he said.

Then you tipped off Judy Miller.

No. He told us, we told Judy Miller, she interviewed him, then we give him to the U.S. government.

You went to Judy Miller and The New York Times first.


What was the thinking there?

The thinking is that if we believed him to be credible, we wanted his story out, because we knew that if the U.S. took him, we would never see him again.

But did he present anything?

Yes, he did.

He presented evidence that there were certain kinds of silos.

He did.

But there was nothing about weapons themselves.

This is exactly what he said, and the record shows that what he said to The New York Times, but he elaborated on those a lot to the United States government. So he is not a source of information saying there is imminent threat. That's the first person we give. We've not seen him since Dec. 17, 2001.

So he wasn't evidence that there was an imminent threat?


OK. So then the other fellow--

The second fellow -- Harith. ... He gave them information about mobile biological weapons labs, which they found.


We believe they found them. There is skepticism, doubt. But we believe they found them. That's the second one. The third one is a young man who is with us here, still, who told them about an isotope separation facility that he was working on. They didn't want to talk to him.

Well, isotope separation could have to do with medical uses, agricultural uses. It's not necessarily a weapons program.

Indeed. Those are the three pieces of information exactly about the weapons, and no more that we gave.

So was there an imminent threat? I mean, were you not engaged in talking to people in the Defense Department and telling them that you thought there was a serious threat in Iraq beyond the threat to the Iraqi people? There's no question that Saddam Hussein was a monster who terrorized his own people.

You ask me about whether what specific information we provided to the United States about weapons of mass destruction. I told you about the three defectors. We provided no other information of any kind about weapons of mass destruction.

So, in your opinion, why was the case built around weapons of mass destruction?

This is the United States government doing something that they thought existed. They had, of course, other intelligence, which we had nothing to do with. They claimed they had intelligence about acquisition of uranium, this big controversy that's taking place about uranium from Niger. We knew nothing about that. We had nothing to do with it.

They had other information which they garnered from their satellite pictures. They had scientists who defected to them directly. Speak to them. They made their own determination about this.

But is it your belief that Saddam Hussein presented an imminent threat to the United States? ...

Look. Saddam Hussein was a threat to the West, and he was the most dangerous threat that could have been envisaged in this time, especially after Sept. 11.

But did you use that argument in convincing the United States to come to war?

I cannot convince the United States on my say-so.

You were a very influential lobbyist in Washington.

Yes. But it's not -- you see, the United States government does not take information or opinion from exiled politicians to determine whether it's going to go to war or not. Besides, there are many people in the United States who are in the government, who would discount, were actively working against us having anything to do with the United States government getting any information.

These are the facts. We could not provide information unverified on my say so, or any say-so of anybody in the INC, which can influence the United States to go to war.

But there's no question -- it's well known, it's well accepted, that you were quite close to Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz, to Doug Feith, that you had access to the vice president's office. These were the architects of the war plan.

Indeed. But that does not mean that I presented them with any exaggerated evidence or false evidence about Saddam, his weapons or about his being an imminent threat supported by any kind of intelligence. I argued.

But he was an imminent threat?

I believe he was.

Based on what?

Because we believe that he was developing weapons of mass destruction.

But based on what evidence?

Evidence that we had from his people. But we never gave this to the United States, because we knew that this kind of evidence would be unacceptable and we will be--


Because it is not verifiable for the United States. We get a piece of information from an officer.

So it was hearsay?

We believed it. We knew it -- well, we did not present it.

But it looks as if, right now, I mean, the American people feel that they were told that there were going to be storehouses of weapons on the shelf.

Not by us. Not by us.

By whom?

From their own intelligence services.

You're making an interesting argument. You're saying, on the one hand, that you weren't making such an argument. But, on the other hand, you were hearing it.


And you believed that it was an imminent threat.

Yes, but you see, because I have experience--

But I can't believe you didn't say that to the vice president or to--

[In] my experience with the United States government and its intelligence agencies ... making claims of this nature, unsupported, unverified, does not help our case. Because anybody I speak to in the United States government will go and write an interagency memo, which will be viewed by everyone. If I make such a claim and it's reported in an interagency memo, which I cannot verify and support, it will boomerang against our case. So I would not make such an argument.

I see.

But, nevertheless, we believe this argument.

And those who you were close to heard you out on this?

They did not hear me say that Saddam was an imminent threat and he's going to attack you within whatever. I did not say that. Because if they write it in an interagency memo, it's going to boomerang in my face.

So you never told the vice president that you believed that Saddam was an imminent threat?

No. I would not say that. I would not say that. But what I did say, and I said to them, that the Iraqi army will not fight to defend Saddam. I made this case over and over again.

The debate in Washington, and the extreme amount of feuding that went on between the State Department and the CIA and the Pentagon -- [did it have] a debilitating effect on U.S. policy planners in making any kind of cogent postwar plan?

I don't think so. I think the State Department, CIA, won on the postwar plan. But their postwar plan collapsed because the assumptions they made came to naught.

What assumptions -- what plan did they have?

They had a plan to turn part of the Iraqi army against Saddam and use them to control the country subsequently.

Are you talking about the "decapitation" strategy?

Yes. This was--

This was the strategy of the CIA and the State Department?

And it was bought into by CENTCOM. General Franks bought into this strategy.

So this became a division, even a schism, even within the Pentagon between Franks and Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld?

I believe so.

And the military brass won?



Because they were fighting the war and they had the official intelligence agencies of the United States on their side, and they had State Department on their side.

So that's what led to the "decapitation" strike--

Yes. ... It also proved to be false. It had a bad effect; not only on the planning for the postwar strategy, but also in subsequent evaluation of the United States government about whether Saddam's alive or not. The entire United States government believed that Saddam was dead. When the U.S. forces entered Baghdad, they believed that Saddam was dead.

I think I can correct you on that. I think what you mean is that they had a witness at the scene who said they saw Saddam being put into an ambulance and taken away; either he was dead or he was injured.

They said he was dead. They believed it.

Who told you he was dead?

I am not at liberty to say. But people who are our friends, very high up in the United States government -- very, very high up -- believed he was dead.

And you insisted that he was still moving about?

Yes. I insisted that he was moving around, because we knew.

That's correct. I remember you saying it, and you appear to be right.

Yes. That, and--


Well, I say so, too -- unfortunately. I went to New York in June, and I spoke on the Council of Foreign Relations ... and I said Saddam is alive. Subsequently, people in Washington were angry.

It was becoming obvious by that time that he was alive.

Yes. But you know we said it a long time ago. Even Ali Hassan al-Majid, "Chemical Ali." ... I was in Nasiriya when the report came that he was dead and that they found his body. But we learned immediately from people in Basra that he was not dead, that he had escaped towards the north and they described to us how he went. I said it within a few days of the announcement, "We don't believe that he's dead."

The schism within the U.S. government. A lot of it's centered on you -- rightly or wrongly -- yet a lot of it came down to people's evaluation of you. The Pentagon supported you. At least the OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense], the civilian side of it, supported you. The CIA and the State Department -- after 1996 and onwards -- reviled you.


And this became all-consuming.

Yes, but you see, this is a very curious situation. I believe that the people who did not want to do anything against Saddam took me up as the bete noire of this, thinking that I was an easy target to discredit the entire policy. They picked me up as--

You became an extremely divisive character.

Yes, well, they made me so. Not I.

Well, no, but they say -- I mean, in all due respect, they criticized your fancy suits, your watch, your kind of intellectual arrogance -- a kind of sense that you thought you were better than everybody else. They acknowledged that you were a brilliant political counselor, but a person that didn't have any political charm.


Therefore, [you] should not have been a candidate.

Well, I'm not a candidate. I'm sitting in Baghdad with--

You're on the executive committee of the governing council.

Yes. But I did not campaign for it. I did not -- even today, I--

You have no political ambitions?

I am saying I am not a candidate.

But, I mean, you were a candidate of the Pentagon?

Well, I may be, but they thought that I was the candidate of the Pentagon. But this thing is not about Pentagon or State Department. We are in Iraq now. It doesn't matter what the State Department or the Pentagon says--

But these fights are going on and continuing to affect--

Well, they can go on. These are American fights. They have little relevance here in Baghdad now.

Do you think they're no longer hampering the efforts to put Iraq on its feet?

Not at all. Because you see, this is not an argument about opposition -- about my dress code or my taste in shoes, and my intellectual pretensions. They are rather about American lives in Iraq. These arguments can--

I would agree with you on that.

They are -- they cannot go on. ...

You don't see, though, that the conflicts between State -- I mean, I've talked to some of your own deputies, who believe that there are still people sitting over at the CPA who would like to see this whole effort fail.

Perhaps. But what are they able to do about it? Look, I came to Iraq. I entered Iraq from Iran, in January 2003. I've stayed on almost all the time except for a brief period. In June, I went to attend my daughter's graduation, and I came back. I've traveled now to New York to be in the United Nations. But that's it.

I came to Iran from Iraq. The United States doesn't have much support in Iran, nor do they have much influence. So the United States did not bring me into Iraq in this phase of the war.

Well, but they did fly you from the north into the south.

And delaying my entry into Baghdad by five days. Five crucial days. Had I not gone to Nasiriya, I would have come to Baghdad from the north. Other people from our organization did.

I know. But this was an effort to put you into '"liberated" Iraq sooner.

Maybe. But that, you know, that effort--

It was an effort by, as I understand it, it was a decision by Doug Feith?

It was a decision made at the request of General Franks.

Right. But you had to be approved at the OSD.

Maybe. They did approve it. They did approve it at the OSD, and they needed that kind of thing then. It was convenient for the military of the U.S. to have an Iraqi force on their side in the--

But this is a token force.

It was a token force, but it could have been the nucleus of a much bigger force, which is going to happen now.

But, in all honesty, had things gone your way, you would have had some kind of governing group come in, in which you were a participant. There would have been no ORHA or CPA.

Well, my point was that the United States government should recognize an Iraqi provisional government on any liberated territory of Iraq that was outside the Kurdish area.

And they refused to do that?

They didn't do it. …

OK. So in October 2002, you sat down with some oil men, some of the oil men from U.S. multinational oil companies in Washington. You told them that you would reward the United States with lucrative oil contracts for removing Saddam.

Which oil companies? When? Where?

In October 2002.

I didn't remember that.

In Washington. [Quote,] "Executives of three U.S. oil multinationals meet with the leader of the INC, Ahmad Chalabi, to negotiate exploitation of oil reserves in a post-Saddam Iraq."

I have no recollection of this.

You have no recollection?

No. No.

This has been widely reported.

Yes, but it's not true.

You've never met with any oil executives?

I met once with a person who was representing an oil company. We had lunch. And there was no discussion of any contracts.

And you never said, because this is a direct quote, that--

Where did this appear? I don't know.

This was in The London Observer, on Nov. 3. ... You were quoted as saying that you would reward the U.S. with lucrative oil contracts for removing Saddam.

No. That's not true.

Well, answer me the question, would you? Your platform would be to privatize or to nationalize the oil?

No, our program is to maximize the benefit to Iraq of oil. Iraqi oil is in serious trouble now. Iraqi oil needs rehabilitation, and we need to invest a great deal of money to restore production pre-1991 levels. We also need further investment to increase the oil production, which we must have, because there is not sufficient revenue for Iraq.

Your deputy told me yesterday, Nabeel Musawi, that in fact you did favor rewarding U.S. and British oil companies with lucrative contracts.

Well, we'll give them a first call.

You would give them first call?

Yes. But that does not mean that they... They have to compete with others.

Right. But they would have an advantage over--

They will have an advantage. They are our friends. They helped us liberate Iraq.

Well, that's all I'm asking.

Best position. No, but don't say "reward" U.S. oil companies.

But that's what you said.

I didn't say that. I didn't say that.

But you never met with any oil executives other than the one lunch you're talking about? And in that meeting, you didn't discuss Iraqi oil?

There was discussion of oil in general. But there's no discussion of any contracts.

Can you say who that was that you met?


You don't want to say that. OK. In London, in December, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, Mark Grossman, and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz come to London to meet with you.

Not with me alone. With--

With the opposition, in general.


What message are they carrying?

The message is that the United States will not tolerate Saddam violating U.N. resolutions; that the Iraqi people should prepare for liberation.

Around this time, Zalmay Khalilzad [is selected] to be the envoy. The liaison between you and the administration?


Earlier. But around this time, he's becoming active.


There is a difference of opinion about what the post-Saddam Iraq should look like, what kind of government there should be installed. Correct? There's a difference of opinion between the opposition and the U.S. government over what the post-Saddam era should look like.

Indeed, yes.

Describe it for me.

The opposition adopted the position that the Iraqi opposition would form a provisional government which would deal with the issues of liberation and transition to democracy.

So you favored a provisional government?


And the United States government favored -- what?

The United States government said, "No, we will not recognize a government that is formed by the opposition which is outside the country. We want to get people from inside the country involved, and they should be playing a leading role in this provisional government."

This was a serious conflict between the opposition and the government?

Yes. But there was a serious difference of opinion.

You wrote an editorial soon after that in The Wall Street Journal, in which you pressed very hard for a provisional government to be set up. ...

Three months after that.

In February. Feb. 19.

Yes, but that was in response to the announcement by the U.S. government that they want to have a military governor for Iraq for two years.


Yes. But this editorial was in response to that, against this policy. ...

What I'm trying to get at here is understanding the difference of opinions.

Yes, and it's clear. The difference is very clear. The U.S. government thought that they can get some people in Iraq whom they were in contact with to be the leading elements in the new government of Iraq. Basically, they thought that they could get some remnants of the army or the Baath Party to turn sides in the middle of this conflict, and then they would be leading the government effort in Iraq after the war.

The opposition from the outside would be sort of latched on to this to give it some kind of respectability. But the real power would be in the hands of the military units and the Baath Party remnants who had turned against Saddam.

That was the idea. But we thought that the army will go home and the Baath Party will collapse and there would be nothing left.

So you fought the U.S. government on this. But you had allies within the U.S. government on this point?

Indeed we did.

Who were they?

From the Defense Department ... from the vice president.

From the vice president and from Wolfowitz's office as well?

Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Give me some sense of that struggle.

We thought that this is not workable. … We thought its not going to be worth it. It would be very bad, as subsequent events turned out to be.

Well, you lost that battle. ...

At that time? No, we actually won it, because they abandoned their idea of a military government in March. They called us and told us that they are in support-- what they called an '"interim" Iraqi authority. No military government. ...

Right. But who was the real power?

Look. When you have 180,000 coalition troops in Iraq, who do you think is the real power?

Well, that's my point.

Well, of course. This is the whole issue. The 180,000 are the real power if they decide to be. In fact, the United States can be the real power in Saudi Arabia if they decide to be. They can be the real power in Kuwait. They can be the real power in Qatar if they decide to be.

But you fought hard to avoid this.

We did avoid it. We now have a provisional-- We have a governing council which has wide powers. ... So I think we won the argument.

Well, yes, through twist and turns. ... There was a report in late February -- not long after your editorial -- in The Washington Post in which you were informed, according to this report, that any effort on your part to declare a provisional government would result in a formal break in the U.S.-INC relationship. Who informed you of that?

No one informed me of that.

You're saying that's not true?

That's not true.

No one informed you that you had to stand down from the --

Not at all. No, no one informed me of that at all.

It was opposed by the U.S. government. How was the message carried to you?

No one informed me that there would be a breach in relations between the INC and the U.S. government if we do not stand down from our position as a provisional government at all. No one conveyed this message to me. We read it in the newspapers.

You read it in the newspapers? You remember reading that in the newspapers?


What did you think?

I thought it was bad reporting.

But you were being told by your friends in the Defense Department that the government wasn't going to be able to deliver a provisional government.

Yes. They said that the U.S. government does not favor a provisional government at this time.

They were disappointed?

Well, some of them were disappointed. But--

Who was your most ardent backer?

Many of them were backers for our policy.

You just said right now that some of them were disappointed. Who do you mean?

About the provisional government?


Some officials in the Pentagon.

Doug Feith?

Among them.

But he was a leading proponent. I'm just trying to understand the facts.

But the facts are there. Some people in the Office of the Secretary of Defense were disappointed. ...

On March 20, you go on the radio. That was quite a momentous, historic event. Can you remember that?

Yes. Yes, of course I can.

Who arranged it? Tell me about it.

I was in Turkey meeting with the Turkish government, with some Iraqis and with Khalilzad. At dawn we were planning to leave for Iraq. We heard that there was a U.S. strike on some target in Baghdad for the decapitation of Saddam. ... and they were pretty confident that they had incapacitated Saddam or killed him.

Just after the strike -- I got a call from a correspondent of Radio Sawa, from Washington. He said, "Have you heard the news?" I said yes. He said, "Do you have a message for the Iraqi people?" I said yes. So I gave him a message. I told the military to go home and not to fight the U.S. coalition. They are not the enemies of Iraq; the enemy of Iraq is Saddam.

Do you remember exactly what you said? "The hour of liberation has come. Your dark night is coming to an end?"


Was that from Turkey or from northern Iraq?

No, it was from Turkey. We were on our way to Iraq. ... We got to Iraq the same day -- eight hours later.

I want to skip forward to the meeting that takes place on April 28. You're not in attendance, I understand. But it's a very important meeting in terms of the promises that came out of it. Can you tell me about that?

Which meeting? Where?

April 28 in Baghdad when the 300 Iraqis meet. [Khalilzad] is there. Garner is there. A few days later, you have a private meeting.

Well, I didn't go to that meeting.

I know you didn't go to that meeting. But a few days later, you did attend a meeting.

Yes. Well, of course. There was a meeting of the Iraqi political leadership -- with Khalilzad and Garner and several generals.

Promises were made at that meeting.

U.S. policy was declared. Both Khalilzad and Garner -- Khalilzad in specific --declared the policy of the U.S. government is to support the establishment of a provisional government in Iraq in four weeks. He looked at me and he said, "Your arguments were very compelling, and they've persuaded a lot of people."

So now you've come 180 degrees around, and then the United States is backing a provisional government.

Yes. ... Yes, he didn't only say that to me. He went downstairs from the meeting and said it to about 100 journalists. That's, I think, on the record.

So we were pretty happy that the U.S. government has come around to our point of view. And we proceeded with this procedure.

Then what happened?

Then Khalilzad said he's going to go and come back in 10 days. He went and never came back, and the U.S.--

He went back to Washington?


What was he told in Washington?

I don't know what he was told. But--

I understand that he was told he had no authority to make such a promise to you.

I think policy was reversed. Khalilzad is a very careful man. He got permission to make this statement. But then there was a meeting in Washington of the principals, I believe, which they reversed this decision.

Who do you think then is responsible for arguing for this policy to be reversed? Was this the State Department?

I think what happened that time was that there was a very serious concern in the United States that if a political process started, it will be taken over by Islamics and former Baathists. So they got cold feet and pulled back.

What is your position on this?

I thought it was unfortunate and could lead to problems at top.

You decided to visit Washington when you went home for your daughter's graduation from Harvard?

I went to my daughter's graduation. Then I was invited to go to New York to speak to the Council on Foreign Relations, on Iraq. There was a lot of bad propaganda, false statements and absolutely outlandish claims that we supplied erroneous and exaggerated intelligence to the U.S. about weapons of mass destruction which were instrumental in getting the U.S. to go to war, so I wanted to refute that. I went to New York and I spoke in the Council on Foreign Relations. I was on TV in several places, and I refuted that.

You had argued for a long time that they were tightly connected with Al Qaeda, as far back as 1998. I remember meeting with you--


You told me there were lots of connections.

Yes, there were.

Well, those have not quite been demonstrated.

Well, they should look further. We can--

But you haven't successfully been able to demonstrate--

We have very strong leads on that, and we have very strong evidence that they have.

You have strong evidence that there's links between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein?

Yes. You see, the point is that the U.S.--

Where are these? Where is this evidence though?

In U.S. hands.

Why hasn't it been--

Because I have not been able to talk to the people, or get the information out of the people they have in their hands.

But this is not material that you've provided to the press at any time?


But you're certain that there is this information?


It just hasn't been released to the public?

Yes. But I don't think they have it. They have not gotten it. You see--

I thought you gave it to them.

It is not. It's the U.S.. Look, the US has several thousand detainees from Saddam's regime. They should do a better job of getting information out of them. The information is there. We know it is.

So it's in Guantanamo?

No. In Iraq.

It's in Iraq, where they have detainees?


And those people can tell them, but they just haven't told them?

Yes. Yes.

But you, as far back as 1998, were arguing that there was a strong link between Al Qaeda--


But I never saw concrete evidence.

We gave the names of the people who we knew were doing the links. What is the kind of thing that you want? There were visits of Al Qaeda here and there was money that changed hands between them and--

What kind of money changed hands between--

Funds were given to Al Qaeda.


From Saddam ...


To Al Qaeda. …

... But you say you have actual evidence that there was money--

We have people who say they did it.

Do you have any documentary evidence of any kind?

Of what?

I was told ... that you had a document that states -- it was instructions from the intelligence office in Saddam's government to destroy--

Yes. There is such a document.

That is a document that you could show us?

Well, I've seen it. But I do not have it in my possession. They could show it to you, I think.

Who can show it to me?

Our intelligence people.

Your intelligence people?


So after this interview, we can--

I don't know if you can do it right now.

Well, I think its very important to make this -- this is something you've talked about since 1998, and I think it's a very important point. It's one of the points that drew America to this war.


Correct? So it's very important to establish the truth of it.


I mean, if there is such a document, it makes sense for you to share it, no?

I'm not saying no. No, I'm saying that I can't--

I'm somehow not getting the feeling that I'm going to see the document.

Well, you are erroneous.

OK. Great. I hope to see it.

Well, we expect to show it to you.

OK. The policy gets reversed. ... So when you go to Washington after New York, you must express your displeasure. You have a meeting over at Wolfowitz's office, which was attended by members of the State Department.

My main meetings were in Congress.

Right. But you did have meetings across the river.


During those meetings, you expressed your displeasure with the U.S. policy at that point.

I felt that that was unfortunate that they reversed the policy of establishing a provisional government.

What did they say to you?

They listened to me. They didn't say anything.

Frustrating for you?

No. I'm used to the U.S. government.

Well, that doesn't mean that you wouldn't have been--

No. I mean I expect these turns and reversals of policy frequently. So it's not disappointing. It is something that was on the cards all the time. So we always try to make our case, and I did make a case.

What was the result of that?

I don't know the result of that came directly. But when I came back -- the CPA had changed their mind from having an advisory council to what they called a government council, then a governing council. ...

There was an immediate shake-up.

There was an immediate shake-up -- after Khalilzad and Garner gave us this policy declaration. Khalilzad never came back and Garner was changed, was phased out. Bremer came to Iraq ... On May 16, he showed this great de-Baathification order. I had gone by the beginning of June. So I had two weeks here before I left. But during those two weeks, the policy had shifted completely from a provisional government to nothing.

But why were Khalilzad and General Garner gone?

Well, I think for two different reasons. Zal was gone because they changed the policy, and he was the proponent, or he was, not the advocate, but the spokesman for our earlier policy. So it would not be politic to keep the person who made the policy declaration, and when the policy declaration is reversed. I think that's why Zal didn't come back.

But Garner, the problem with Garner was that he was employing Baathists in senior positions, and the U.S. press got hold of that. They went ahead and put it in The New York Times that Baathists were being made to run the university, Ministry of Health. ... That created a big fuss with the United States, because the U.S. policy was de-Baathification.

You, in fact, were pushing very hard for the spotlight to be placed on that.

Oh, yes. Very hard.

I mean, you were talking to journalists about the fact.

A lot.

You were telling journalists that they ought to look at that, and you were very upset that they weren't more aggressively de-Baathifying.


Why was Garner resistant?

I believe that-- It's not-- Garner came and he was handed the names of a group of people by the CIA and the State Department whom they wanted him to cooperate with. Those people were Baathists, ex-Baathists or people with links to the Iraqi Mukhabarat. And Garner used them.

You confronted Garner about that. What did he say to you? You had meetings over at the Hunt Club about that.

No, we had a meeting with Garner with the leadership. I mentioned de-Baathification. He said, well, some people don't think so. In the Hunt Club, I mentioned that, too. He did not say anything of substance in response. But he didn't change his policy.

So he just basically ignored your statements?


You're not afraid to say that you were unhappy with him.

It's not, I was-- I thought that he was--

You disagreed with him.

Entirely disagreed with him.

Not unhappy to see him go?

Well, I was happy to see the policy reversed. Jay Garner was a nice man.

Yes. Some people say he was too nice for the job.

Well, he's a nice man. ... That's all I can tell you from my--

See, now I think you are a politician.


Because you're being very careful.

No, no. I liked him. I said some harsh things about him from Nasiriya on CNN, and he didn't like that at all. Everybody was angry with me in Washington. "Why are you saying that?" I kept saying, "Where is Garner? The place needs him. He's supposed to be in charge of reconstruction. The area is falling apart." ...

Bremer's job. Is Bremer doing a good job?


You're pleased with the way that he proceeded with de-Baathification?


They also refused, at first, to pay the salaries of the army.

Yes. We warned that there's going to be trouble, demonstrations, two weeks before it happened.

Two weeks before it happened?

Yes. ... They were organizing to demonstrate in front of them.

What did you do-- What did you say to the--

We told them about it. We felt that they should take action before--

... I didn't go myself, no. That was handled through our channels, our links with him.

But this is considered now one of the big mistakes of--

We agree. It was a mistake, and we warned that there were going to be demonstrations.

And they said--?

Nothing. Later on, he said, "Ah, you were right. There were demonstrations."

But they said nothing?

No. I didn't do the warning myself.

Since then, any criticisms of how things have gone?

Well, now there's a governing council with considerable authority.

You were worried that you weren't going to have enough authority. In fact, the name got changed to "governing council," as I remember it.

Yes. Well, it has a lot of authority now.

But at first you were going to be kind of -- quislings.

Well, we did. We were not on it then. We only agreed when it had-- that it would have considerable authority. We didn't agree to be on any advisory council.

So you were holding back your participation?


Did that force the name change?

I can't tell you whether this forced the name change, but everybody thought it was--

But that was your strategy, to refuse to participate in anything that had an advisory function and demand--

Our strategy was to get a body which had effective authority in Iraq on everything except security, and that the U.S. administration, the CPA would agree in writing to terms like that. And they did.

Now there's lots of people that continue -- there's people that worry that Iraq can't hold, the center can't hold, that only under Saddam could the center hold. But now you've got [the radical Shiite leader] al-Sadr saying he doesn't respect the governing council. ...

Yes. So? He can say that.

Well, he worries [Grand Ayatollah] Sistani. He worries the others -- they don't quite know how to handle a young firebrand like him.

I don't think so. They know very well. He has very little support in Najaf.

He draws quite a crowd in Najaf.

Well, they are bused in.

Well, they're bused in. There's not been large rallies that you've presided over, have there? ...

No. I'm not a prayer leader.

But you are a political leader.

Yes. But we have not made any effort to make rallies. We had a rally in Nasiriya when we went in on very short notice. ...

This issue of participating in rallies or using religious occasions for political statements which are pursued relentlessly by the press. All of those things are really not reflective of the real situation on the minds of the people. Rallies and demonstrations do not reflect what people really think in Iraq.

It's a free country now. People are free to gather in--

Oh, yes. Indeed, they are free to gather, and they are free to express themselves. But why should the people who support something express their support through a rally or a demonstration?

Well, this is common in democracies.

Well, not really. I mean, do you think all of the supporters who elected President Bush rallied and demonstrated?

Across the country. Throughout a many-month election campaign.


He spoke to many people in many communities.

Yes, but did he speak to a million people?

On television.

On television, sure. But there is no television here.

There's the Iraqi Media Network.

Well. That's not really television.

That's the voice of the coalition.

Well, it is, but it's not television.

Do you have plans to have your own television?

We are working. We are to have a--

So you have no concerns about al-Sadr and his rhetoric?

No. ... Not seriously. I don't think that will affect the outcome of the constitution process or elections.

No concern about Sistani's concerns about the process, the constitutional--

I agree with Sistani. Sistani's position is something that is very important. We should get the support of Sistani for the constitutional process.

You met with Sistani.

Yes, I did meet with Sistani.

How did that go?

Very well.

Can you give me some sense of the substance of that meeting?


What were his concerns and what were yours?

He's a real leader. A man with incisive intelligence who cuts right to the heart of the matter at hand. He's aware of the issues. His main concern was the U.S. government was going to write a constitution for Iraq, either directly or through proxies. He said to me that the U.S. government wrote a constitution for Japan. He was afraid that this would come about, and then there would be some kind of anti-Islamic constitution in Iraq.

He wanted to make sure that this did not happen, and he wanted to make sure that all representatives of all communities participate in the process of writing a constitution. He thought that the best way to do this was through elections. He did not specify when, and he did not specify whether the constitutional conference should be made through elections. But he thought there has to be some elections which would approve the constitution. Now this is a position we can work with.

What do you think is your biggest challenge then, if it's not the diversity within the country of opinion and culture, religion? What do you think your biggest challenge is?

My biggest problem, I believe, would arise if there is serious acrimony between the U.S. troops and the Iraqi people. This has been my basic concern from the beginning, before the war. That is something that I would like to move forward to address quickly, and to resolve.

Who is killing American soldiers?

Baathists, mainly.

Religious elements are not engaged in that violence?

Some. So there are some non-Iraqi -- Wahhabis and Salafis who have come into these areas who are making an effort to kill U.S. soldiers. But the main support for this, and the main funding is from Baathists.

Once the Baathist [money] dries up, do you think that that opposition will go away?

It's a long way drying up, but I believe that this opposition can be removed quickly.

Without drying up the money?

Yes. ...

You say it's a long way from drying up.

Yes, but--

But it can be resolved quickly? That's a contradiction.

No, it's not. There are other ways to resolve this, other than waiting for the Baathist money to run out.

By getting the Americans off the streets?

Well, this is one thing. And by interning many Baathists.

By interning? By jailing many Baathists??

Yes. Yes.

How are you going to do that? You don't have a police force.

Not I. I don't have any jurisdiction over--

Well, no, but how are you, the Iraqis, going to be able to do that without--?

We cannot do it ourselves because we don't have jurisdiction over any security force. The Americans must do it.

So you think they're moving aggressively enough as it is?

Not yet, no.

No. You think they need to do more arrests, more sweeps?

Yes, a lot more.

But won't this just increase [the acrimony] at the same time?


I mean, you get into a vicious circle here where they increase the acrimony.

That is not true. There will be no vicious circle.

Why not?

Because now the situation is very soft. Baathists are able to remain here -- very near here. There are people who have killed hundreds of Iraqis living at home. All the way along the airport road on both sides are houses of Mukhabarat officers. There are many incidents on the road to the airport. They planted bombs. There are Baathists and Fedayeen Saddam and other elements who don't wish the U.S. well at all, roaming around the cities of Iraq, and nothing is being done about it.

You know who they are and where they are?

Indeed, we do. We do.

When you say "we," you mean the INC's intelligence?

INC and the governing council.

So why are they not arresting these people if we know where they are?

Because communicating information to the U.S. does not produce the desired result and there is no policy in the U.S. now to do this. There are some people in the U.S. who think the same way that you asked the question -- that this is counterproductive, and will only increase the violence.

So how do you persuade them otherwise?

I think they'll eventually persuade them.

In other words, the killing will continue and they'll be forced into it?


So we're going to see a number more American soldiers killed?

Same level. But it will become cumulative, and that's not good.

This is going to be difficult to sell a policy of such aggressive behavior on the part of the United States.

Well, that's all right. Then they will get -- the casualties will continue at this rate.

Well, that's not all right, because eventually that's not going to translate into political support at home for the continued occupation of Iraq. ...

Well, we really don't need continued occupation.

You need security.

We need security, but we can -- if the U.S. pulls out, we have to have our own plans.

But you don't have any.

Oh, we do.

You have plans, but you have nothing on the ground. You do not have a police force.

We can develop a police force quickly.

Are you saying that if the Americans pull out tomorrow, you'd be OK?

No. There will be fighting in Iraq. There would be a lot of bloodshed. But we will not abandon the situation. We will fight, and I believe we will win. We will fight the Baathists.

You have no forces to fight the Baathists.

Yes, we do. We can raise them quickly. They cannot control Baghdad for us. They cannot control the south, and they cannot control the Kurdish areas. I believe we can have enough allies in the western and the northern part of the country, the Arab part ... to squeeze out the Baathists. We have contingency plans in case the U.S. wants to pull out.

Do you envision that?


Do you envision the troops becoming even more aggressive?

I think the U.S., yes, there is too much at stake for the U.S. now.

Have you told this to Bremer?


What was your discussions in your last meeting with--

The governing council and the authority of the governing council and the support of the United States for it.

But now you're back, and your main concern is security. So I imagine in your next opportunity, you're going to be talking to Ambassador Bremer about security.

Not necessarily. Today he told us that the U.S. is planning to recruit a civil defense force of eight battalions within 45 days.

Sorry. Explain that. Made up of--?



Yes. He didn't explain how on that. But that is something that he has been arguing for, for some time. He said if that's successful, they would recruit another eight battalions.

Have you made any mistakes? Because in talking to you here, there is this constant "We told them so. We told them so. We told them so." Have you made mistakes?


Can you tell me what?

I was late in coming to Baghdad for five days. That was a big mistake. That was a result of going to Nasiriya with no assurance of transport from the U.S. We had to wait for our cars to be brought from Kuwait for us to move to Baghdad. But I believe we could have moved to Baghdad in rented vehicles. It was very important to be here.

In fact, you were somewhat isolated when you got to Nasiriya. Weren't you more or less abandoned?

Not abandoned. But we were sitting in the desert. We--

Well, you were cordoned off. You weren't supported.

No, not cordoned off. We could move easily, freely. We moved very much.

Not without cars.

We rented cars. We rented buses and--

From the population.

From the population. People brought us cars. I had lots and lots of people come to me.

Well, it seems that over the years you've had this kind of on-again-off-again relationship with the United States, depending on what part of the government you're talking about. You have your enemies, you have your friends, and they're in constant battle. Sometimes it falls your way, and other times it doesn't.

Yes, it's true.

What have you learned about the United States?

The United States is a big country with many opinions. But it's always possible to argue a case. One should not abandon one's cause, and one also should be accurate in conveying information and presenting arguments.

You're to be commended for patience and perseverance. There's no question that you've been at this for a long time; and here you sit.

Yes, indeed.

How does it feel to be in Baghdad?

Excellent. Very good.

That's all you can say?

Well, yes. It's very rewarding.

Here you are, working for 13 years to get here, and all you can say is that it feels good?


You can do better than that.

It feels that I am back home in this city among the Iraqi people, among my friends and relatives and working very hard to do something good for the country. It feels good.

What would you like to become in this new country?

I would like to become a private citizen.

That's it?

Where I can work and live and do things to build a civil society and to help build institutions of civil society. …

... The American people were sold a war based on strong links between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. Those simply have not surfaced.

I think the people have not looked hard enough. They are there. What happened to those people? Do you know? Has anybody interrogated them? Have they said anything to anyone? What is their fate? We have no access to them.

I assume -- perhaps wrongly -- but I would assume that the United States is under such pressure -- the administration is being bombarded with requests to put forward some evidence.

Yes, but you see this is the disconnect with -- that the U.S. government -- there's a priority in the U.S. government doesn't translate very immediately to things on the ground.

Oh, but this administration is under fire. If they had strong links between Al Qaeda [and Saddam], you would have heard it at the U.N. ...

Look, here is a very warped picture of what U.S. priorities are at the highest level and how they are translated. I mean, the way that they looked for weapons of mass destruction when they first arrived was not serious.

Because they had been led to believe that they would open doors and they would be sitting on the shelf.


Perhaps their intelligence was bad.

Yes, but you see, even so, you would think that they would have some serious thinking devoted to how to get the weapons, have some serious assets devoted to it. They did not. ... I think that CENTCOM did not adequately plan for the initiative of looking for weapons of mass destruction. ...

Who helped organize that trip to Nasiriya back in Washington?

The Office of the Secretary of Defense, plus General Franks, because--

But the Office of Secretary of Defense is the command that would tell Franks to bring you in. Am I correct in that?

I don't know. I don't know how the chain of commands works.

If it was up to Franks, would you have flown in?

Franks -- yes, at one point, yes. Franks desperately wanted Iraqi forces. Nobody could come with any except us.

The word I heard that was when you landed in Nasiriya, that they had to mobilize to protect you, and it became more--

Who mobilized to protect us?

That the army had to mobilize to protect you.

Not at all; they didn't protect us.

This is what I was told by an official in the State Department.

Not at all, no one protected us. We went there. They transported us to the camp. They dumped us there. ... We had 500 people there. It was adequately reported.

Another general told me that the soldiers on the ground that you brought in were basically untrained thugs.

This general is completely misinformed. You should talk to the special forces captains and majors who evaluated our forces and found them to be very adequate and very disciplined and motivated. They used them immediately in an operation ... which is adequately reported. ...

The State Department is still angry that nobody has been punished for allowing you to come in.

Why should they? People, I think, who were in charge--

Because the plan was not to set up a provisional government under the INC, under Ahmad Chalabi.

Well, there was no plan to set up a provisional government if you went to Nasiriya.

The appearance was that you were coming in as the anointed successor to Saddam Hussein.

Not at all, not at all, there was no such promise to--

That was the appearance. You can't deny that it appeared that way.

Of course I can deny that it appeared that way.

But there was no other leader that was favored and flown in.

My being flown into Nasiriya was not that critical, I believe, to my coming to Baghdad. Because I could have come to Baghdad earlier, had I not gone to Nasiriya. See, it's a matter of willingness to take the risk and do it. Nobody prevented anyone else from doing it. It's a matter of being prepared to take the risk and having enough people with you who are also prepared to take the risk and accompany.

But this comes in the context of a long history of you fighting in Washington for backing for a provisional government.

Indeed, yes.

And there you are flying in, before the war is over, into liberated territory.

Well, the north is liberated territory.

Clearly, the appearance to the outside world is that the plan is going forward.

But I did not have that impression myself. I had no assurance that we were going to be a provisional government or had any intention of declaring a provisional government.

You were testing the waters?

Not really, no. What I wanted to do was participate in the liberation of Iraq, which we did, and also to show that we can operate on Iraqi territory without much U.S. help. ...

How much support do you think you have among the population in Iraq, right now?

To do what?

What's your favorability rating? If people were to elect a president tomorrow?

I don't know.

Do you have any sense of how well you'd do?

No, I don't. I'm not a candidate to be elected president. ....

Many people [in the U.S.] who supported the war no longer do.


They feel that they were suckered.

Yes, probably.

They say so.

Okay, I mean, I don't--

Well, I mean, you know, half the people now feel that the war wasn't justified on the grounds that it was argued for.


Do you feel any discomfort with that?

No. We are in Baghdad now.


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posted october 9, 2003

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