Chalabi in Iraq

The Kurdistan Regional Government, based in Arbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, has revealed that Ahmed Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress, based in London, arrived in the Kurdish enclave Friday. This marks the first time Chalabi has set foot inside Iraq since an unsuccessful Kurdish rebellion in the mid-1990s that was ruthlessly crushed by Saddam’s troops.

“Mr. Ahmed Chalabi is now in Salahuddin,” located some 30 miles east of Arbil, the de facto capital of both the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the KRG, an unnamed source reported. Yesterday he visited Suleimaniya, capital of the rival PUK territory. He’s apparently in the region preparing for a meeting of the Iraqi opposition groups in mid-February. The meeting of Iraq’s opposition groups is aimed at following up on a London conference, during which the groups formed a 65-member committee — to which a further 10 names were later added — that could form the basis of a new Iraqi government when Saddam Hussein is routed from power.

Chalabi, 57, is a controversial figure, having been sentenced in 1992 in absentia by a Jordanian court to 22 years in prison for bank fraud following the collapse of Petra Bank, which he founded in 1977. This blot on his record has caused the U.S. State Department to look skeptically at Chalabi as a power locus in a post-Saddam Iraq.

Interestingly, if the INC is planning a mid-February meeting of opposition leaders on Iraqi soil, that could mark the start of the military campaign against Iraq. As soon as the bombs start falling, Chalabi and his group would be in position to declare a new government, with masses of Iraqi defectors flocking to their banner. At least that’s probably the plan. Why declare a government in exile when you can declare a new government on native soil?

By the way, the bombing campaign I mentioned above was leaked today in the Times (and elsewhere) in an attempt to further rattle Baghdad. The plan, for you lazy people who don’t want to click on the link, calls for 3,000 precision-guided munitions to be launched in the first 48 hours of a bombing campaign. “The initial bombardment would use 10 times the number of precision-guided weapons fired in the first two days of the Persian Gulf war of 1991, and the targets would be air defenses, political and military headquarters, communications facilities and suspected chemical and biological delivery systems, military and other Pentagon officials say.” The problem with this plan is that most of Iraq’s military targets are centered in civilian neighborhoods. If the bomber wings hit Baghdad — a city of four million people — hard, which they probably will since Iraq is a highly centralized country, thousands of civilians will die. Even if the bombs are 80 percent accurate, that’s still about 600 bombs that could go astray. That’s a lot of civilian casualties — all of which will be shown on Al Jazeera.

This bombing tactic, while militarily sound, sounds like it could bring up comparisons with Dresden in World War II, in which the city was reduced to ash as a way of “softening up” the civilian population’s will to resist. Let’s hope civilian deaths are kept to a minimum, not only for their sake, but for ours.

3 Comments on “Chalabi in Iraq”

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