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Controversial leader represents Iraq at U.N.

By Wolf Blitzer

The current president of Iraq's governing council, Ahmed Chalabi, left, and senior council member Adnan Pachachi.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- When you think about it in a historic context, it was a pretty remarkable sight -- Ahmed Chalabi and his colleagues from the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council sitting at the United Nations General Assembly representing the government of Iraq.

It underlined the dramatic changes that have occurred over the past few months -- including, the removal of Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist regime from power. This was the first time in some three decades that Saddam loyalists were not sitting in the General Assembly.

We're told that President Bush's speech was televised in Iraq on several Arabic language channels. If Saddam Hussein was watching TV, he no doubt would have been furious, not only because of what Bush was saying but because his arch-enemy, Chalabi, was representing Iraq at the U.N. Remember, it was Chalabi, as the leader of the exiled Iraqi National Congress, who had led the call for the removal of Saddam from power. For years, he had been urging Washington to launch a military strike.

United Nations General Assembly
Ahmed Chalabi

Chalabi is a controversial figure. Some in the Bush administration, especially those over at the Pentagon, admire him and would love to see him take charge. But others, especially those at the State Department and the CIA, don't trust him. They never have, and in recent months, they have pressed to limit his clout. But Chalabi clearly has emerged as a powerful figure in this interim period in Iraq. We shall see if he manages to consolidate that power.

Interestingly, Chalabi seems to agree with French President Jacques Chirac, who is urging for a speedy handover of power from the U.S.-led coalition forces to Iraqis. The Bush administration is considerably more cautious, urging everyone to make that transfer of power timely. They say they want the Iraqis to take over only when they are really ready to do so. U.S. officials say they don't yet have a timetable for that.

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