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PETER SISSONS: Ahmad Chalabi is one of the most influential, controversial and charismatic politicians who will help determine the government of the new Iraq. For many years he lived in exile in Britain and the United States. He helped set up one of the biggest opposition groups to Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi National Congress, after the last Gulf War. But as the war, this war started, he returned home to northern Iraq. A few days ago he flew to Nasiriya in the south, where that crucial meeting of opposition groups is due to take place next week. He joins me live, now, from Nasiriya. Good morning Mr Chalabi.
DR AHMAD CHALABI: Good morning to you.
PETER SISSONS: Can I ask you first for your thoughts as you see the chaos, the looting, the fear, that has followed the collapse of the Saddam regime.
DR AHMAD CHALABI: Saddam has devastated civil society in Iraq. After 35 years of repression, people are angry and this looting is, unfortunately, somewhat expected. However, it must be stopped immediately, we must work very hard to stop the looting. Yesterday the national museum, with 5000 years of Iraq's history in it, was looted and I think this was organised theft, this is just an example of the heart-wrenching experiences we are doing. We are going to move to Baghdad with the free Iraqi forces to help stop this looting in complete co-operation and co-ordination with the United States.
PETER SISSONS: What more do you expect the United States to do?
DR AHMAD CHALABI: The United States can support the free Iraqi forces in all areas of Iraq to stop the looting, to get de-Baathification going right away - we had a very successful experience here in the Nasiriya province in the town of Shadra, we found a great cache of weapons, including detonators for suicide bombings in Shadra, and those were found by the free Iraqi forces. We have reassured people that Saddam's gone and we doing de-Baathification and the population is very happy to see us here and we will move forward to other areas of Iraq, especially Baghdad, very soon.
PETER SISSONS: What are your hopes for this Nasiriya meeting on Tuesday. Will you be taking part in it?
DR AHMAD CHALABI: I will send a representative to this meeting. This meeting is called by the United States for the purpose of explaining to Iraqis there view of the interim Iraqi authority which will be set up by Iraqis through a process to be determined to take over immediately after General Gardiner, who is doing great work now, will finish his job in a few weeks time. And the meeting itself, there will be no decisions taken, I understand, and the issues of the Iraqi ¿ authority will be discussed. It will be a few hours in the air base of Imam Ali here in Nasiriya and then delegates, the invitees, will disperse and the other processes of the interim Iraqi authority will be chosen - will be gone through.
PETER SISSONS: What is there, as John Simpson suspected or feared, what is there to stop free Iraqi degenerating into damaging and dangerous squabbles between different factions?
DR AHMAD CHALABI: There are three things - first the leadership of the opposition that was elected ¿ must now be brought into the picture completely, consulted and play an important role in the choice of the Iraqi interim authority because they represent political forces on the ground which are very important and which can make an important contribution to peace and security in Iraq. The second thing, co-operation from the United States, from the coalition, from Great Britain, with the free Iraqis and with the leadership of the opposition to work through agreements and to demonstrate to the Iraqis that this is not an occupation but rather a liberation. And the third thing is that we must immediately start developing the basic services and providing assistance and aid to people so that they can feel that there is a difference after Saddam. And I think, very importantly, we must proceed with great speed and determination with the de-Baathification. We must uproot the Baath Party from the fabric of Iraqi society. This does not mean killing or humiliating or torturing or in any way demeaning individual Baathists but they must come forward, say what they have, deliver what they have of government property, but it means also the destruction completely of the Baath Party organisation.
PETER SISSONS: You've all - you the returning exiles have already aroused, it appears, some resentment among people who have stuck it out in Iraq. You've been called the opposition of the five star hotels. Does that hurt you?
DR AHMAD CHALABI: Well, this is no five star hotel here. You can see the devastation that Saddam has left. I have felt no resentment at all. I was received very well in Nasiriya by the people and of everywhere our, from our people who are all over the ground in all parts of Iraq, from the north to the south, report a great welcome. People appreciate what we have done, they know that without the United States, Iraq would not have been liberated and they give us credit for helping to persuade the United States to liberate Iraq. We were very thankful for the coalition and we appreciate the sacrifices that coalition men and women have done and we also regret heavily the loss of British life in this fight against Saddam and we give our condolences to the families of the soldiers.
PETER SISSONS: And Iraq is going to need strong leadership in the years and months ahead. Are you the man to give it to them?
DR AHMAD CHALABI: I am not a candidate for any political position in Iraq. My main focus is to go home and work on the restoration of civil society in Iraq.
PETER SISSONS: But if persuaded, would you serve?
DR AHMAD CHALABI: This is a hypothetical question, it's not about me, this is about liberation, this is about freedom, this is about development of democracy. Individuals really are important however they are not a determining fact and we must not focus on individual personalities at this time. It's a divisive thing to do.
PETER SISSONS: Ahmad Chalabi, thank you very much for joining us this morning.
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