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On Sunday, 27 July 2003, Breakfast with Frost featured an interview with Ahmed Chalabi, Iraqi Governing Council.
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PETER SISSONS: Well I'm joined now in the studio by Ahmed Chalabi, one of the leaders of the new Iraqi Governing Council, set up by the Americans to help restore democracy.
For many years he was the prominent but controversial figure in the Iraqi opposition in exile.
Ahmed, thank you very much for coming in. Do you share Sir Jeremy Greenstock's cautious optimism - progress being made but a long way to go?
AHMED CHALABI: There is a great deal of progress of course, and there are problems.
But I believe that the problems in Iraq now are solvable with goodwill and co-operation between Iraqis and the coalition authority. These are the kinds of problems that in fact we are looking forward to.
They are not problems of Saddam's regime staying in power but rather problems of getting a governing situation going with restoring services and getting the economy going.
PETER SISSONS: You had this provisional Iraqi Governing Council, the American appointees. But is any real consensus, any measure of agreement.
AHMED CHALABI: The governing council are now American appointees. The governing council was formed by consultation among Iraqis with coalition authorities both British and American.
We declared ourselves and summoned the British and American envoys with the United Nations representatives and they came and we declared ourselves. So this is how it started, it is false to say it's American.
PETER SISSONS: But authority remains with Paul Bremer the US ...
AHMED CHALABI: That is not accurate, no, because the governing council has authority over everything in Iraq except the security situation.
The governing council will deal with the economy, will appoint representatives to Iraq's missions outside the country, will deal with the United Nations, will handle programmes and projects and we'll deal with contracts, will deal with the oil situation. Some consultation with the Americans, but the authority is there for the governing council.
PETER SISSONS: And will the governing council tell the Americans when they must go?
AHMED CHALABI: The governing council is ready to take Iraq to full sovereignty when the time comes and the governing council will in fact tell the Americans our view about the timing of their departure.
PETER SISSONS: How long do you reckon that will be?
AHMED CHALABI: I want to say that the most important thing in Iraq now is the constitutional process.
This has to be done in a way to secure for Iraqis the best possible constitution that is acceptable to Iraqis and that is liberal and democratic. Iraq is a country of a majority Muslim population. The constitution must respect this and must not be anti-Islamic in any way, shape or form.
At the same time it must be such a constitution that will guarantee the full religious freedom of everybody else and this is one of the biggest challenges we face and we hope that the constitution will be democratic, will guarantee the orderly transfer of power and will separate powers between the executive, the legislative judicial branches.
Once we have a constitution established we will have elections. I believe that it is more important to have a good and solid constitution, if it takes a little bit more time. So I would say that 18 months would be my guess for this.
PETER SISSONS: We're told constantly that the civic infrastructure, the lack of sanitation and electricity and water, in Baghdad in particular, is a real running sore with Iraqis. How does what's happening now compare with life under Saddam?
AHMED CHALABI: There are difficulties with services, it is true. But the point is you have to balance that against the complete lack of terror and the absence of repression. People are free. People are free and they celebrate that every day.
People are free because there is no Saddam, there is no security services and instead of being threatened by Saddam they are now chasing Saddam and his apparatus. His sons have been found and killed and the security services are either in hiding or are in hiding. This is the most overriding thing that you must keep in the balance. There are difficulties with the services but people are free and they celebrate this.
PETER SISSONS: Jeremy Greenstock, his view was that it was essential that Saddam stands trial. Would that be your view too?
AHMED CHALABI: I support that entirely. I think it is much better for the Iraqi people and for the world, for Saddam to be caught alive and to be put on trial for the crimes that he has committed against the people of Iraq, against the neighbours of Iraq and against the world in terms of his repression.
He has to account for the mass graves of the hundreds of thousands of people who were killed by Saddam and at the same time he has to come and stand for the wars that he waged against Iran, against Kuwait and against the people of Iraq and especially in the north and Kurdistan.
PETER SISSONS: Would you expect resistance to the Americans to peter out once Saddam is apprehended or killed, or will they constantly have this trouble with dissident elements?
AHMED CHALABI: American troops are deployed in the cities, at cross-roads in the cities, and there is no need for that. The most important way to establish security in Iraq is for an Iraqi security force to be mobilised and put quickly into the streets of Baghdad and other Iraqi cities.
The less the Americans and the British are visible in the streets the less they are targets for violence and the Iraqi security force is the only thing that can guarantee absolute security in Iraq.
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