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April 6, 2003
 
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Chalabi Sees 2-Year Stay in Iraq for U.S. Military

Reuters


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Reporter's Notebook: Baghdad Fighting Intensifies
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April 6

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An Iraqi opposition leader who told U.S. officials to expect an easy victory over Saddam Hussein said in an interview taped for broadcast on Sunday that the American military may have to stay in Iraq for at least two years.

Ahmad Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress, told the CBS program "60 Minutes" that U.S. forces should remain in the country until elections can be held and a democratic government established.

"I'm not prepared to give a time frame. But we expect to have a constitution ratified within two years," Chalabi said in an interview taped on Thursday at a fortified complex in the Kurdish-controlled mountains of northeastern Iraq.

Paul Wolfowitz, the U.S. deputy defense secretary, said earlier on Sunday that it would take more than six months for an Iraqi government to be created after Saddam's ouster.

Chalabi, the scion of a wealthy Shi'ite Muslim family who was sentenced to 22 years' hard labor in Jordan for bank fraud and embezzlement, has seen his credibility dented since U.S.-led forces ran into unexpectedly stiff Iraqi resistance outside Baghdad and other Iraqi cities. The war ran into its 18th day on Sunday.

Once Washington's closest Iraqi opposition ally, Chalabi has been criticized after telling U.S. authorities, including Vice President Dick Cheney, that the Iraqi army would not fight for Saddam and that a U.S. invasion would quickly bring about a popular uprising against Saddam's ruling Ba'ath Party.

Cheney later predicted publicly that U.S. forces would be welcomed as "liberators."

"The army did not fight to defend Saddam. The Marines and the U.S. 3rd division cut like knife through butter, through two divisions of the Republican Guard near Baghdad in less than 24 hours," Chalabi told CBS when asked about his advice.

Asked about the uprising that failed to materialize, he responded: "The U.S. government publicly asked the Iraqi people not to do an uprising. They asked them to stay at home when military operations were going on. U.S. officials told opposition leaders specifically, 'No uprising."'

Doubts about Chalabi's credibility include State Department questions over his organization's accounting practices.

Inside Iraq, where the two main Kurdish parties and the main Shi'ite opposition group helped set up an alliance to counter his Iraqi National Congress, or INC, Kurdish leaders say Chalabi has virtually no support.

Still, the U.S. Congress voted to pledge $97 million to back the INC in the late 1990s. Chalabi's pro-Western politics and polished delivery later attracted support from conservatives in the Bush administration, notably at the Pentagon, and the powerful U.S. oil lobby.

Chalabi, who is widely expected to bid for a post-war role once U.S. troops have swept away Saddam's rule, said he had no interest in political office.

"I'm not a candidate for any position in Iraq, and I don't seek an office. I think my role ends with the liberation of the country," he told "60 Minutes."

Copyright 2003 Reuters News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

 
 
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