- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Iraq’s former interior minister said the decision to raid the Baghdad home and offices of Ahmed Chalabi was made strictly by the book and was not part of any political power play against the one-time U.S. favorite.

Samir Shakir Mahmood Sumaida’ie said he ignored the fierce battles within the Bush administration over Mr. Chalabi when he approved the May 20 raids.

“As the interior minister, I had legal warrants to arrest certain individuals on certain premises, and it was my duty to make sure the warrants were executed,” said Mr. Sumaida’ie, who addressed a small gathering Tuesday afternoon at the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy.

He acknowledged that the May 20 raid created “a lot of reverberations in Baghdad and Washington,” but insisted that “any ‘wars’ in Washington over Mr. Chalabi were far from my mind when I took action.”

Questions continue to be raised about the raid and the future of Mr. Chalabi, perhaps the best-known of the band of exile dissidents who fought Saddam Hussein. Mr. Chalabi, who was one of the presidents of the now-defunct Iraqi Governing Council, was seen by many senior U.S. officials as a prospective leader of Iraq.

Mr. Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress were also the focus of bitter bureaucratic debates between the Pentagon and the State Department over the best way to deal with Saddam.

Iraqi civilian and military police carried out the raid after an Iraqi court issued arrest warrants for at least seven Chalabi aides on fraud charges. U.S. officials say American military forces did not help carry out the raid, but have acknowledged that armed U.S. contractors were present to observe the action.

Mr. Sumaida’ie said the raid also was not tied to suspicions that Mr. Chalabi and his aides had leaked sensitive intelligence to Iran.

Mr. Chalabi has hotly denied any wrongdoing, saying he will be vindicated in court.

The 61-year-old Mr. Sumaida’ie, like Mr. Chalabi, spent years of exile in London before returning to Baghdad and a seat on the Governing Council in July 2003. Considered by some a rival to Mr. Chalabi, he was dismissed from his ministerial post when interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi reorganized the government late last month.

U.S. security advisers privately complained of Mr. Sumaida’ie’s dismissal, saying he had begun to improve Iraq’s poorly trained and motivated security services.

In his first Washington visit since his dismissal, Mr. Sumaida’ie was critical of many aspects of the 14-month U.S. occupation, including the clashes between civilian and military authorities, the failure to establish credible pro-coalition press outlets, and the slow pace of spending on infrastructure.

He said U.S. mishandling of the post-Saddam period had fed popular conspiracy theories of American motives.

“The thinking is that, since the Americans can’t be so incompetent, what is happening in Iraq must be deliberate,” he said.

But the ex-minister also expressed confidence that Iraqi forces will be able to assume responsibility for security and policing in the country’s urban areas “within a few months,” although the U.S.-dominated international force still will be needed to deal with terrorists and to police borders.

He also said the interim government should assume greater powers under a Saddam-era “emergency law” to fight insurgents.

Mr. Sumaida’ie said security problems might make it difficult to hold to the strict schedule calling for elections in January.

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