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Interview with Kenneth Katzman, of the Congressional Research Service - 2003-04-25


VOA’s David Borgida interviews Kenneth Katzman of the Congressional Research Service who talks about the recent U.S. capture of key Iraqi figures.

MR. BORGIDA
Now joining us, Kenneth Katzman, a specialist in Middle East Affairs with the Congressional Research Service. Thank you, Mr. Katzman, for joining us.

Let's talk about the two, Farouk Hijazi, Tariq Aziz, Mr. Aziz perhaps more well known in the West. What can they offer U.S. forces in terms of intelligence and perhaps in the search for Saddam Hussein himself?

MR. KATZMAN
Well, Aziz could be positioned to say where Saddam is. He was in daily touch with Saddam when they were in power and presumably he might have some contact and know about that. Aziz might also be positioned, since he was a go-between between Iraq and Syria, to say whether regime leaders are in Syria, whether any perhaps weapons of mass destruction were moved to Syria. He might be able to talk about weapons of mass destruction, what decisions there were either to destroy them, hide them, whatever.

But I think the more intriguing capture actually is Farouk Hijazi, because he can tell the U.S. things that we don't already know, particularly about any contacts with al-Qaida, with bin Laden, with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

MR. BORGIDA
And of course a big question, perhaps as big as those you just cited, the presence of chemical or biological weapons. Would he be helpful in that regard?

MR. KATZMAN
Hijazi may not be that helpful on that issue, since I think his assignment was mainly external spying. There were reports he visited Afghanistan, visited Kandahar, in 1998. And there was speculation that that visit was to forge some sort of an alliance with the Taliban or al-Qaida. I happen to believe it was more likely he was spying, to try to find out what al-Qaida's intentions were with regard to Iraq itself.

MR. BORGIDA
Let's talk for a moment, Mr. Katzman, about Iraq and Iran. U.S. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld is now saying -- I think he said it for the second day in a row -- that the U.S. will not allow an Iranian style government, his words, led by clerics, to be established in Iraq. Does it sound to you perhaps like a similar warning that we heard with Syria earlier, in recent weeks?

MR. KATZMAN
Well, with Iran, I'm not quite sure how the U.S., if it wants to stop that, is going to stop it. Many Shiite Islamic clerics have already basically taken power in many of the cities in southern Iraq. So, to oust them would require some level of U.S. armed force. And then you get into a decision, is the U.S. going to confront civilians, Shiites in mosques, et cetera? So, I happen to think it's going to be very difficult to roll that back, if indeed there is a decision to do so.

MR. BORGIDA
Let's talk for a moment, too, about local politics. Someone did once say that all politics is local. But in Baghdad, for example, we see the accession to power in a sort of self-declared way of certain leaders, and perhaps this is a model for other cities and towns in Iraq. Is that a very complicating factor in developing a more democratic and free Iraq?

MR. KATZMAN
Well, I think Baghdad is really up for grabs. And the question I have now is, are the Shiite Islamists going to try to take power in Baghdad as well as southern Iraq? Remember, Baghdad actually also is majority Shiite residents, so they have an awful lot of power there, too, if they want to exercise it. The problem is Baghdad is the seat of the national government. And if the Shiites try to take power in Baghdad, that could signal that they are going to try to take national power and really be the government of Iraq.

MR. BORGIDA
Briefly, in about 30 seconds or so, Mr. Katzman, are you optimistic that in the months ahead we will see beginnings of a fledgling government by Iraqis, or do you think it's going to be a complicated and tough road?

MR. KATZMAN
I think the Iraqis have already started to take control of their own destiny. The problem is it seems like some U.S. official don't like what's coming, which is the Shiites Islamic forces that are so strong, I believe. And the question is, does the U.S. try to co-opt them or confront them?

MR. BORGIDA
Was that an oversight perhaps, not anticipating that?

MR. KATZMAN
I think it was not anticipated the type of strength that the Shiite Islamists would be demonstrating now. I do think that wasn't anticipated, right.

MR. BORGIDA
Okay, Kenneth Katzman, a Specialist in Middle East Affairs with the Congressional Research Service. Thanks so much for joining us, Mr. Katzman.

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