Iraqi National Congress (INC)
Established in 1992 as an umbrella group bringing together diverse opposition elements including Kurdish, Islamist, and Arab nationalist groups, the group encountered difficulties in uniting the various factions at times. Initially launched by Kurdish personalities, some 170 Iraqi opposition figures participated the 1992 conference that established the INC in Salah Al-Din that elected a three-member presidential council for the INC: Shi'a cleric Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum; ex-Iraqi General Hasan Naqib; and Kurdistan Democratic Party head Mas'ud Barzani. Ahmad Chalabi was elected chair of the INC's executive council.
The INC took part in a failed coup attempt against the Hussein regime in 1996, after which Hussein's retaliated by attacking INC bases in the northern Iraq, killing 200 supporters and forcing thousands to flee. Chalabi lobbied endlessly from the mid-1990s in an effort to gain U.S. support for the overthrow of the regime. His group was first funded by the CIA and later by the Pentagon.
Chalabi entered Baghdad soon after Operation Iraqi Freedom and attempted to gain popular support among the Iraqi indigenous population. His 700-member Free Iraqi Forces militia, operating with the approval of the U.S. military, was dismantled by the coalition in May 2003 after its members were accused of burglary, harassment, and unauthorized detention of Iraqi citizens. Chalabi was afforded a seat on the Iraqi Governing Council but was not appointed to serve in the interim Iraqi government. The Pentagon eliminated a $340,000 monthly stipend to the INC in May 2004 just before allegations surfaced that Chalabi's group had passed sensitive U.S. intelligence to Iran, an allegation he has denied.
The INC publishes the newspaper "Al-Mu'tamar."
The De-Baathification Commission became something of an election issue with Ayed Allawi publicly criticizing it and Shia Islamists in turn strongly supporting it. Behind the scenes, Shia Islamist political figures were driving the commission as other commission board members show little interest in its work. The Shia engine led their political opponents to claim the commission's work was highly politicized.
Chalabi has earned criticism -- but also popularity and fear -- for his role as a central figure in the de-Ba'athification purge of mostly secular election candidates. Chalabi was able to manipulate the de-Ba'ath situation so as to force PM Maliki and other senior Shi'a leaders to accept his will, or face the wrath of an emotional Shi'a body politic. Chalabi is often criticized for his ties to Iran; Allawi, saw Chalabi as "married" to Iran, and asserted that Chalabi had historically misinformed U.S. policymakers in a manner that played into Iran's hand. Chalabi has openly acknowledged his relations with senior Iranian officials.
Justifying the need for peaceful relations with Iraq's neighbors, Chalabi acknowledged Iran's strong influence in Iraq as a fact of life, pointing out that 80 percent of Iraqis live within 150 km of the Iranian border. However, he suggested that Turkey, given its economic and political ties to the West, could serve as a viable regional partner for Iraq and counterbalance to Iran.
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