- The Washington Times - Friday, July 25, 2003

Iraqi Governing Council member Ahmed Chalabi inspected the abandoned, weed-choked Iraq Interests Section building in Washington yesterday. Portraits of Saddam Hussein were yanked off the walls as he stared at the piles of shredded documents in the basement.

The power was off, as it has been for the past five months since the chief of mission was told to leave the country. A thin layer of dust covered the desks in the once stately wood-paneled rooms of the building just off P Street in downtown Washington.

But Mr. Chalabi beamed as his assistant moved from room to room and jumped onto the furniture to tear down the framed pictures of the former Iraqi dictator.

“The noose is tightening. It’s now tightening around Saddam Hussein” after the discovery and death of his two sons, Uday and Qusai, Mr. Chalabi said after his brief tour of the paper-strewn, three-story brick building.

The Iraq Interests Section, operating under the Embassy of Algeria, was left under the care of Ahmed Al-Kaissiy, former assistant to the chief of mission, after his boss was told to leave the country by March 24, four days into the war with Iraq.

“He’s in Baghdad and he’s unemployed,” Mr. Al-Kaissiy said of the former chief of mission, Akram Al-Douri. “I called him last week. He was kicked out [of the Foreign Ministry] last week for being a Ba’ath Party member.”

Shredded documents, copies of communications between the Iraqis and the State Department, Pentagon and Baghdad dating as far back as 1991 littered the darkened stairs and basement of the building.

Asked who had shredded the papers, Mr. Al-Kaissiy said, “We did — in March and in February.

“My boss, Mr. Al-Douri, told me to.”

Upstairs, cardboard boxes loaded with documents with passport-sized photographs stapled onto them crowded the rooms on the second and third floors — offices set aside for consular, military and intelligence work.

On the third floor, which Mr. Al-Kaissiy said had not been used since the end of the Persian Gulf war in 1991, an empty safe lay abandoned in a small, musty-smelling dark room. Typewriters sat on deserted desks, and tangled wires covered the floor.

A calendar hung on the edge of a fireplace on the second floor was still on March. When the war in Iraq started, the State Department gave orders for all but four interests section staffers to leave. That’s when the bills at 1801 P St. NW started piling up.

“I haven’t been paid in five months,” said Mr. Al-Kaissiy — wistfully remembering the parties held in the large reception room, now a quiet host to cobwebs on the large windows looking out onto the street.

He said that after 15 years in Washington, he was just waiting for his check and a staff to be appointed by the U.S.-approved Iraqi Governing Council so he could retire.

Mr. Chalabi said he expects the Governing Council to move quickly to appoint someone to represent Iraq in the United States.

“We are working on that now,” he said.

Mr. Chalabi, head of the formerly exiled Iraqi National Congress, said he decided to visit the interests section on his own.

Iraq’s last ambassador left Washington in 1990, just before the start of the Gulf war.

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