Senior Iraqi Governing Council member Ahmed Chalabi says his relationship with the U.S.-led administration in Baghdad is now "non-existent." His comments Thursday followed early morning raids on his house and office in Baghdad by Iraqi police, backed by U.S. troops.
Journalists and curious onlookers were kept at a distance Thursday morning, as American troops and several Humvee military vehicles cordoned off the streets leading to Ahmed Chalabi's house in the upscale Mansour district of Baghdad.
Several witnesses say they saw Iraqi policemen and several armed Western civilians taking boxes out of the house and driving away with them.
The Governing Council member later told reporters that the boxes were documents, files, computers and other items seized by the Iraqi police and Americans during Thursday's raids.
Mr. Chalabi reacted to the raids.
"My house was attacked at 11 o'clock by Iraqi police with American MPs [military police]," he said. "We avoided, by a hair's breath, a clash with my guards. I opened the door. The police went into my room, carrying pistols."
Ahmed Chalabi is the Shiite Muslim leader of the once-exiled Iraqi National Congress opposition group, who, until recently, had been helping coalition officials shape a post-war Iraq. Mr. Chalabi is a former favorite of some Pentagon officials, but has now fallen out of favor in Washington. His voice rising in anger, Mr. Chalabi accused the head of the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority, Paul Bremer, of supporting former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, who Mr. Chalabi says, ordered the raids. He added that Mr. Bremer and other CPA officials are allowing Baathists to target him, because Mr. Chalabi has recently criticized the U.S. role and strategy in Iraq.
"I am now calling for policies to liberate the Iraqi people, to get full sovereignty now," he added. "I'm putting the case in a way which they don't like. I have questioned Brahimi's role. They don't like [it]. I have opened up the investigation for the oil-for-food program, which casts doubt about the integrity of the U.N. here. They don't like this."
In a recent interview with an American television network, Mr. Chalabi criticized the U.N. envoy in Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, who is now helping the United States shape a caretaker government that would take power on June 30.
Mr. Brahimi believes the Iraqi Governing Council lacks credibility with ordinary Iraqis and its current members should not be included in the new government. Mr. Chalabi is opposed to the idea and says he believes the caretaker government should be an expanded version of the Governing Council.
Mr. Chalabi has also recently complained about U.S. plans to retain control of Iraqi security forces after the power handover in June.
In turn, some U.S. officials here privately accuse Mr. Chalabi of trying to interfere in an investigation into alleged corruption of the U.N.'s oil-for-food program, which allowed Saddam Hussein to sell oil to buy food and humanitarian supplies under strict sanctions.
Whatever the reason behind Thursday's raids, coalition spokesman Dan Senor says that Iraq's American administrator, Paul Bremer, only authorized them after he received a specific request from an Iraqi judge.
"Ambassador Bremer has the authority for referring any central criminal court case to the central criminal court, of which there have been hundreds," he said. "Every single one has been Iraqi-initiated, Iraqi-led. There has been thorough investigation and only then will Ambassador Bremer, as a procedural matter, refer to the central criminal court. The result of today was not inconsistent with that process."
On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Defense announced that it had stopped paying a monthly stipend of $340,000 to the Iraqi National Congress. The money, paid for more than a decade, was partly to compensate Mr. Chalabi's group for intelligence passed along by Iraqi exiles about Saddam's alleged weapons of mass destruction, but Pentagon officials say the decision to cut funding was made because the Iraqi opposition group no longer needed U.S. financial assistance.