'America Can't Rule': Iraqi Politician Ahmed Chalabi Has the Backing of the Pentagon, but Doesn't Want to Be 'America's Candidate'

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Byline: Kevin Peraino and Melinda Liu

The Iraq Hunting Club, which features a run-down outdoor movie theater and dilapidated tennis courts, used to be a favorite haunt of Saddam Hussein's elder son, Uday. Now it's the Baghdad base of Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress. Last week Chalabi sat outside near a giant bingo board with two NEWSWEEK reporters to discuss his political ambitions and his ties to America. Guards hovered nearby with Kalashnikovs slung over their shoulders.

NEWSWEEK: You've returned to Iraq after 45 years in exile. What have you been doing [since you got back]?

CHALABI: I've met leaders from every tribe around Baghdad--also business people, lawyers, justices and bankers. I've been proclaiming the end of the regime and the need for de-Baathification, emphasizing that this does not imply violence. I want to start the process of democracy and establish institutions of civil society. We've apprehended people on the U.S. wanted list, interviewed intelligence officers and people involved in weapons programs. We've learned the extent of Saddam Hussein's deception and the depth of his evil. We've collected tons and tons of files.

Is there a smoking gun?

There are smoking guns of many kinds: information about WMD, about [secret] agents, about the extent of cooperation and penetration and control of Arab leaders. We should be very careful in handling this information because it could cause major disruptions. We also found terror links and people involved in planning it. I'm not saying any more.

You have vocal supporters at the Pentagon. Is this an advantage or a disadvantage now? …