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Interview with Entifadh K. Qanbar - 2002-08-07


This week, Iraqi opposition leaders are meeting with U.S. officials at the State Department and the Pentagon. One of the leaders is Entifadh K. Qanbar, the Director of the Iraqi National Congress office in Washington. He came to the United States from his native Iraq and applied for political asylum in 1990 after he had been arrested by Iraqi Military Security for suspected activities against Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Mr. Qanbar spoke with VOA’s Melinda Smith about the purpose of the official meetings and his strongly held belief that the people of Iraq do not want or support Saddam.

MS. SMITH:
With me today to talk about the opposition movement to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is Entifadh Qanbar. Mr. Qanbar is the Director of the Iraqi National Congress office here in Washington. You were also the liaison between the U.S. military officials at the Pentagon and the Iraqi National Congress.

MR. QANBAR:
Still.

MS. SMITH:
Still. And that is involved with training Iraqi insurgents?

MR. QANBAR:
Yes.

MS. SMITH:
Before we get started in our conversation, tell me a little bit about that, the training.

MR. QANBAR:
There was a U.S. law, voted on by the U.S. Congress almost unanimously in 1998, called the Iraq Liberation Act of October 1998, under which Iraqi National Congress authorities would be trained to be prepared for insurgency inside Iraq to overthrow Saddam from power. We tried to make it a liberation war rather than a war between the U.S. and Iraq.

MS. SMITH:
Now a group of you who are opposed to Saddam Hussein's reign are in Washington, meeting with officials from the Bush administration. Tell us a little bit about that meeting, of what you hope to hear from them or what you propose in the way of a plan.

MR. QANBAR:
Actually this meeting is a very important meeting, and it has more meaning than just a meeting. It is the first time when you have the State Department and the Pentagon and a wide variety of figures from the Iraqi opposition meeting with the U.S. administration. This is a very clear commitment from President Bush to march forward to liberate Baghdad from Saddam. We think this is a very considerable move, and we encourage it and we look forward to come out with results to establish democracy in Iraq.

MS. SMITH:
What would you really like the Bush administration to do?

MR. QANBAR:
What we are more concerned with is not the military aspect. I think the military aspect is not going to be the most difficult one. I served myself five years in the Iraqi Army. I think the Iraqi Army is not going to fight, and they will turn their back and fight with us against Saddam. I think the most difficult issue is to establish peace in Iraq and win the peace.

We are looking forward to train people to have a transition to justice, to train judges, prosecutors, military police, people who run the oil sector. We need to make liberated areas in Iraq transfer to civil law and join the international community, to make it as an example of democracy and freedom for the rest of Iraq.

MS. SMITH:
Do you have a timetable for when you want this whole plan to move forward and see some results?

MR. QANBAR:
As an Iraqi, my timetable is 20 years ago. I would have hoped that Saddam was not ever there, and I would like him to go as soon as possible. We don't have any knowledge of what the plans of the U.S. Government are. The U.S. Government is committed to its own cause. But we always encourage the U.S. Government to move forward as soon as possible and save Iraq and make Iraq an ally to the U.S., rather than an enemy which has weapons of mass destruction.

MS. SMITH:
There is, as I am sure you are aware, some opposition to the U.S. going into Iraq by many European leaders and many leaders in the Middle East. How do you counter that? Because not having that worldwide support might be difficult for your cause.

MR. QANBAR:
I think it is quite hypocritical of the Europeans to say that, when they were liberated by the U.S. in the Second World War from Hitler. Germany would have been devastated without the U.S. help to be liberated, and also the Marshall Plan, to be rebuilt. I think the European people would like to see the Iraqi people finish this long 35 years of suffering, and would like to see this country to go back to the international community.

I think the U.S. has made a very good case, and continues to make the case, that Iraq is a danger. Saddam invaded his neighbors. He used gases against his own people. And he continues to build weapons of mass destruction. We brought several witnesses from inside Iraq who have witnessed the reconstruction and massive efforts to build weapons of mass destruction. We need to be very careful and we need to take it very serious that Saddam could use terrorism to reach his hand in any European capital. And they better join in this coalition and win the war on terror rather than wait until Saddam hits them.

MS. SMITH:
How would you gauge Saddam Hussein's reaction to all this talk by the Bush administration?

MR. QANBAR:
It shows that a small effort and a real commitment from a President like President Bush made a whole difference. Look how Saddam has been on his love offensive to the world. He is sending letters for people to come and showing the weakness in his fragile regime and showing his incapability to handle any commitment from the international community and the U.S. to overthrow him.

This is a very fragile regime and it will collapse faster than anybody could imagine. The people in Iraq are sick of Saddam. In spite of the evil of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, some Afghanis were ready to die for the Taliban. No one in the Iraqi Army or the Iraqi people is willing to die for Saddam.

MS. SMITH:
There were some efforts to overthrow him after the Gulf War. And the people who participated in that were brutally treated afterwards.

MR. QANBAR:
Well, the Iraqi National Congress is very much opposing any coup attempt. Saddam is coup-proof. He is supported and surrounded by a very close circle of his relatives. They are impenetrable. And all communications are under surveillance, especially for leaders of the Iraqi Army. It is impossible to make a coup. And for anybody to push Iraqi officers to make a coup in Iraq, they are committing a crime by pushing them into a place where Saddam can catch them and kill them.

The only way to overthrow Saddam is a liberation war, is a massive uprising, going towards Baghdad and overthrowing Saddam through the help of the Iraqi people.

MS. SMITH:
Quickly, any timetable or signs that we might look for that your efforts, your cause, is actually beginning to gain fruit?

MR. QANBAR:
Well, our efforts are gaining fruit. I think the American people voted for the Iraqi Liberation Act, which commits the American people to help the Iraqi people to overthrow Saddam and establish democracy. We have a President who is committed to win the war on terror, and we trust him and we think we will win this war and we will have a peaceful Iraq.

MS. SMITH:
I'm sure we will be talking to you about it again.

MR. QANBAR:
Maybe from Baghdad.

MS. SMITH:
Thank you very much, Entifadh Qanbar.

MR. QANBAR:
Thank you.

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