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Pool Report: U.S. Iraqi Meeting At An Nasiriyah

April 15, 2003
Release Number: 03-04-131



Your pool met at 3:15 a.m. at the base and loaded a bus about a half an hour later for Al Udeid AFB. According to one of our observant Arabic speakers, our bus was Iranian. As we rolled onto the dark, vast base just south of Doha, we could see the after burners of a jet taking off in the distance. About 4:30 a.m. we pulled up to the DV (distinguished visitors) lounge.

Soon, distinguished visitors arrived: the National Security Council's Zalmay Khalilzad, the State Department's Ryan Crocker, the Defense Department's Larry Dirita-our briefers from Monday-- and the rest of the delegation. Among the notables: Admiral Jim Robb, the J5 from CENTCOM, Jim Wilkinson, director of strategic communications for CENTCOM, and representatives from the three countries that have contributed troops to the war.

For the Polish, Ambassador Ryszard Krystosik, who ran the U.S. interest section in Baghdad for six years until 2001. For the Australians, Peter Varghese. For the British, Edward Chaplin, who is best known for his work in Iran and for his brief stint as a hostage there.

Emad Dhia, an Iraqi American living in Detroit who runs something called the Iraqi Freedom Project was also there. He has gathered exiles from around the world to provide technical assistance to Iraq. Entifad Qanbar, the DC representative of the Iraqi National Congress and not only Ahmed Chalabi's representative at the conference , but also the INC's rep at CENTCOM was also in our party.

There was also Ambassador David Litt, the political advisor to General Tommy Franks, and the former ambassador to the UAE. There were several other staff people from the State Department and CENTCOM including translators, videographers and Arab experts such as Nabil Khoury. We didn't mingle with them long; they were escorted off to breakfast.

The DV lounge is a prefab building in modern Arab style stuffed full of plush crème colored chairs and couches. And there we sat, lay and sprawled for some four and a half hours as we waited on word of our C130, which was having mechanical problems.

At just shy of 9 a.m., the DVs came back, regretful of having passed their four plus hours on hard little chairs. Admiral Robb was working his cell phone and conferring with Dirita about closing statements, which Dirita said he had already changed by about 90 percent.

We boarded the new C130 around 9:30a.m. for the two hour and fifteen minute flight. On the tarmac was a U.S. government jetliner with its telltale turquoise coloring. Wilkinson and Admiral Robb sat in the jump seats in the back of the cockpit during take off and arranged for photographers and cameramen to shoot the landing into Tallil Air Base. We were wheels up at 9:42 a.m. The inside of the cavernous C130 exposes all its inards-wires, tubes, etc. The diplomatic group sat in red hanging seats. Some looked out the window, others reviewed papers and studied palm pilots.

The plane flew over Bahrain, up the Saudi Arabian coast and then northwest over Kuwait and entered Iraqi air space at 11:20 a.m. and landed at Tallil air base at 11:55 a.m. "When we hit Iraq we see nothing but bedouin camps and a few burned out tanks that may not even be from this war," says AF Capt. Chris Lamb a navigator on the C130. His squad flew the first plane that flew into Tallil after it was secured by Special Forces, he said.

Before the plane entered Iraq, the crew put on body armor, dumped fuel and began evasive maneuvers in case it encountered groundfire. When we entered the "fence"-the border with Iraq, the plane started defensive maneuvers and dropped down to 200 feet above the desert for the last 30 minutes of the flight. Then, we start weaving. Those who were in the cockpit during landing reported seeing a plane ahead of us-a possible decoy? The pilot had to take a sharp turn upon approach because he was hitting the landing strip wrong. When we dropped on to the runway it felt like we fell out of the sky. Inside the plane, several people threw up into newspapers.

Upon landing, wheels down at about noon, Qanbar started crying. Tears steamed down his face and he hugged Dhia. Another exile, who we have yet to identify, dropped to his knees and kissed the ground. Diplomatic security-like the secret service but under the State Department-guarded the perimeter around the plane

We all boarded more buses-the diplos on one the press on the other-and drove a short dusty distance to the Zigurat-one of the Arab world's most famed archeological ruins in Ur. The windows of the bus were almost too dirty to see out of. We passed many Chinooks and tons of idle equipment from tractors to trucks. Five small humvees with mounted gunner and two military trucks followed us to the site.

The meeting-set up in a large, air conditioned off white (with the persistent blowing sand) tent-was in view of the Ziguarat-a massive mud brick structure. The floor of the tent was covered with red patterned carpets and there were about 80 people in attendance. Some wore traditional tribal dress-a black thobe, for example. But most were in shirt sleeves, some in ties. The diplos we traveled with all donned their suit jackets and ties before leaving the plane. There were some five Iraqi women in the audience.

Our six traveling diplos (with the exception of Robb and the Iraqi exiles who traveled with us) sat at the dais with General Jay Garner, who had arrived last night. Garner wore a twin American and Iraqi flag pin on his blue shirt. Most of them made opening remarks using a handmike and were translated simultaneously into Arabic. The best grabs from those statements follow. Then they opened up the floor to the Iraqis. A list of names and the best grabs from that follow.

1) The first speaker representing General Tommy Franks was Jay Garnder, head of the ORHA. The official program said that he represented Franks, but he was not introduces as representing Franks. He spoke first of how he had never thought he would be waking up next to the birth place of Abraham, and drew parallels with that and the meeting. "I said, what better place than the birthplace of civilisation could you have for the beginning of a free Iraq."

2) The next sepaker was Zalmay Kahlizad, a special adviser to George Bush. He first asked for a minute of silence for those people who had died fighting Saddam's tyranny, and those who died in the "war of liberation" which ousted him from power. He brought the meeting greetings from Bush, praised the presence and role over many years of Iraqis in exile and also those people from inside the country who were attending. "We hope that (this meeting) will be a chance for those Iraqis who have been away to get to know the various people here during Saddam's tyranny." He hope for a quick establishment of an Iraqi interim authority. "We have no intention of ruling Iraq...We want you to establish your own democratic system based on Iraqi traditions and values.....I urge you to take this opportunity to co-operate with each other."

3) The next speaker was Edward Chaplin, the head of the Foreign Office's Middle East Section in London. He spoke in Arabic. He said today was not the day to make decisions, but that he hoped there would be an iraqi interim authority as soon as possible, which would lead to a permanent system of elected governments." "I hope there will be a balanced and effective administration.

The Polish and Australian reps also spoke but were less memorable. Then:

4) Sheik Ayad Jamal Al Din, a Shiite religious leader from Nasiriyah, urged separation of mosque and state. "We reject the concept of a confessional democracy that would prevent the Iraqi people from practicing religion," Din said to scattered applause. He demanded a "system of government that separates belief from politics." He went on to say, "Dictators may not speak in the name of religion," he said after quoting the Koran.

5) Nassar Hussein Musawi, a secondary school teacher who says he and his wife were persecuted by Saddam Hussein disagreed. "Those who would like to separate religion from the state are simply dreaming," he said.

6) Hatem Mukhliss, an Iraqi exile, urged Iraqis to accept a government that lives by the rule of law. He quoted US president JFK: "Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country." He added: "Saddam reduced the country to such a state that it was necessary for people to sell off personal possessions. Now it's time to take our country back." He asked coalition representatives at the meeting to address problems of security, electricity and water in Iraq and help to rebuild destroyed and looted hospitals. He said Iraqis should write a constutution, establish a legal system and consider what role the Iraqi army should play. He also urged Iraqis who have taken state property to return it. He said committees should be formed to decide how private property confiscated by the govenrmetn could be returned.

7) Hoshyar Zebari, a representative of the Kurdish Democratic Party, who lives in Salahaddin in Northern Iraq called the meeting a "kick off" for starting a series of meetings to find a process for forming a governmnet. "What model will we use? Will it be the Afghan model, will the United Nations be involved, what will be the role of the opposition? These are all things we have to decide. He said he was please by the meeting although many of the speeches met with polite or luke warm applause. A meeting to discuss plans for the country is a new concept for many of the tribal leaders who attended the conference. "They are still nervous, they don't believe Saddam is gone yet."

8) "I ask you to resist the infection of our state by violence especially political vengeance said Rend Francke, an Iraqi woman who attended the meeting. "Shunning violence doesn't mean forgiving past crimes it means confronting them with law and justice," she said.


April 15, 2003
Release Number: 03-04-132



A senior government official told us about the ending of the meeting Garner was trying to bring some closure and also ensure that things start to move quickly. He assured the Iraqis that the coalition was going to reconstruct but that the political development had to go on simultaneiously. He basically told them that they weren't getting out of there until they voted on the next meeting. "The first vote of free Iraq should be (about) when the next meeting is," Garner said. There was vocal and strong support. Garner proposed another in ten days time. Zalmay said he wanted to see a show of hands on ten days or two weeks. The ten days hands won. Where etc. still TBD. The purpose of the next meeting will be more definite thoughts behind the Iraqi Interim Authority, for Iraqis to come with more definite proposals. "We may have ideas of our own we'll share, we MAY," the official said. But he emphasized he wanted them to come with concrete proposals.

MORE TK of closing ceremony and some other interviews with Chalabi's nephew, and the INC head, etc.upon landing.


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