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April 18, 2003 - Image 19

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-04-18

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

In The Background

Chalabi's status with Iraqis and Bush may determine
future attitudes toward Israel.

MATTHEW E. BERGER
Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Counter-Productive?

Some observers worry that a public relationship could
work against the interests of Jewish groups and the
Iraqi opposition.
Michael Amitay, executive director of the
Washington Kurdish Institute, said Jewish groups
might run into problems by working only with
Chalabi and Entifadh Qanbar, director of the con-
gress' Washington office, because the congress does
not have strong support in Iraq, where there are

Washington, D.C.
s the United States begins rebuilding Iraq,
pro-Israel activists are watching closely,
seeing an opportunity for the Jewish state
to improve ties with another Arab neigh-
bor.
Much of that hope has been placed in the hands of
Ahmed Chalabi, a leader of the Iraqi National
Congress opposition group who has forged
strong ties with the White House and
Pentagon in recent years — and has built a
strong following in the American Jewish
community.
"There's no track record of anyone else in
Iraqi leadership having a relationship with
the Jewish community," said Tom
Neumann, executive director of the Jewish
Institute for National Security Affairs
(JINSA).
Chalabi's group has been assigned to help
U.S. troops impose order in Baghdad — a
sign, some argue, that the congress is favored
to play a large role in any interim govern-
ment the United States forms in Iraq.
The Iraqi National Congress is not univer-
sally liked within the Bush administration.
Reports stress that the State Department and
the CIA are concerned about the congress'
lack of popular support in Iraq.
JINSA and other Jewish organizations met
with Chalabi and other congress leaders in
the run up to the war last fall, part of the
Jewish community's effort to strengthen
Israel's relations with the Arab world. With
the Bush administration preparing at the
time to overthrow the regime in Baghdad,
both the congress and Jewish groups said
Ahmed Chalabi, Iraqi opposition leader, is president of the Iraqi
they had something to gain from a strong
National Congress.
bond.
The congress saw a way to tap Jewish
influence in Washington and Jerusalem and
to drum up increased support for its cause. The
numerous opposition groups.
Jewish groups saw an opportunity to pave the way for
Perceived Jewish support for Chalabi could "drive a
better relations between Israel and Iraq if and when
wedge between Chalabi and other forces in the Iraqi
the congress is involved in replacing dictator Saddam
opposition," said Amitay, whose father, Morris, is vice
Hussein's regime.
chairman of JINSA's board of directors.
"Because Saddam was so anti-Israel, the hope is that
Calling the Jewish approach "short-sighted," he said
all of Saddam's policies will be revisited, including his
it would be "much more helpful if Jewish groups
relationship with Israel and the United States,"
reached out to other groups, such as the Kurds," as
JINSA's Neumann said. "There's no reason for the
well.
Iraqi people to have a problem with Israel."
Qanbar disputes that claim. He says Jewish groups
The congress' relationship with JINSA also is signif- have been among the first to form an alliance with the
icant because Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, who has been
congress because they realize support for the organiza-
assigned to lead the U.S. reconstruction of Iraq, has
tion is growing within the Bush administration.
traveled with JINSA and supported the organization's
"Jewish groups have a strong understanding or
acrenda.
American politics," he said. "It's an indication that

there is a new phase of policy."
Some also worry that Chalabi's good words won't
translate into a pro-Israel foreign policy. Pressure to
garner support from inside Iraq and the rest of the
Arab world could force the Iraqi National Congress to
abandon its pro-Israel position.
In addition, the Bush administration's appointment
of a military leader and encouragement of a dissident
group with ties to Israel has played into conspiracy
theories in the Arab world that the United States went
to war in Iraq for Israel's benefit — perhaps constrain-
ing the next Iraqi government's latitude to approach
Israel.
"It's far too early to even speculate where any of
them will be and what their positions will be," said
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chair of the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish
Organizations. "It never works out the way people
think it is going to work out."
The congress was founded shortly after the
F., end of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, combining
c
- several smaller opposition forces within Iraq. It
""
> operates a newspaper, a television station,
2 regional offices and a center for humanitarian
T. relief. It is based in Salahuddin in northern
Iraq and has its external base in London.

U.S. Backing.

The United States has given the congress more
than $26 million during the past three years.
U.S. aid to the group was suspended in
January because of the congress' alleged mis-
management of funds, but resumed a month
later.
The United States also has given a smaller
amount, $315,000, to another opposition
group, the Iraqi National Movement, and $1.5
million to the Future of Iraq Project, which
brings together numerous opposition groups,
including the congress.
Qanbar says the congress reached out to the
Jewish community because it is the best avenue
to get to the Israeli government. Israel, he
believes, should reciprocate by reaching out to
the congress and getting more involved in cre-
ating political change in Iraq.
"The Jewish groups in Washington have
some influence in Israel," he said last fall.
Qanbar believes good relations with Israel are
possible under a new regime because Saddam is
the one who had a problem with Israel, not the
Iraqi people.
His analysis is contradicted by history, however:
Iraqi antagonism toward Israel predates Saddam by
several decades, as Iraqi army units invaded Israel dur-
ing its 1948 War of Independence. In addition, popu-
lar attitudes toward the Jewish state have been influ-
enced by decades of fiercely anti-Israel propaganda.
Qanbar said the congress urges the resolution of all
regional conflicts without violence. Chalabi told the
JINSA audience in October that Saddam is the source
of all terrorism in the Middle East and that govern-
mental change in Iraq would affect the regional
dynamics to the benefit of the United States and
Israel. ❑

al

4/18

2003

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