- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 9, 2005

Veteran Iraqi politician Ahmad Chalabi yesterday presented himself to Washington as an alternative to the Islamist-led government in Iraq and said the country was ready to move beyond “identity politics.”

With national elections for a new four-year National Assembly and government five weeks away, Mr. Chalabi emphasized his broad political reach and ability to curb Iran’s influence in Iraq.

“We have seen fit to … separate ourselves from the parties that see themselves as part of an Islamic state,” he said, adding that his list of political candidates is respectful of Islam, but “does not believe in ideology in governance.”

“Iraq is now at the threshold of a new era, we have to be very clear. We are not out of the danger zone, and what we do matters for the outcome, will have an impact on peace in Iraq, on the continuation of the democratic process,” Mr. Chalabi said.

Mr. Chalabi, who spent much of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein’s reign in exile, introduced a delegation of Iraqi politicians who accompanied him on his high-level visit.

“Almost all of them stayed in Iraq during Saddam’s period,” he said at a talk at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI).

“All these people, we need them over there for the campaign, to show you that Iraqi democracy has matured and we are moving a step forward, beyond identity politics,” Mr. Chalabi said.

Most Iraqis voted strictly along religious and tribal fealty lines in the January elections, following the recommendations of their Shi’ite or Kurdish leaders.

Even the minority Sunnis who did not participate boycotted the vote on the advice of their politicians.

The winning Shi’ite coalition that dominates the government is thought to have won after Iraq’s most respected Shi’ite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, gave his public blessing to the alliance.

This time round, Ayatollah al-Sistani has said he will stay out of the political process and has urged his followers to vote their consciences.

Mr. Chalabi swept into the AEI in a police-led convoy of black sport utility vehicles, ignoring a tiny demonstration outside the building.

Mr. Chalabi outlined his political platform for the Dec. 15 elections, including a proposal to distribute oil wealth to all Iraqis and invite private investment in the oil sector.

But he acknowledged that there could be little movement until security was re-established.

The insurgency that has crippled Iraq and killed thousands of civilians, Mr. Chalabi said, would never be resolved by force alone.

“It is achievable primarily by persuading the major components of the population that they have a stake in the state of Iraq,” he said.

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