If anyone personifies the United States’ failures so far in Iraq, that person is Ahmed Chalabi. So, while there’s no guarantee that the Iraqi transitional government soon to be appointed by the United Nations will enjoy broad popular support, one sure way for the U.S. to further undercut that government’s credibility would be to insist that Chalabi be included in it.
Chalabi is the best-known and most controversial of the Iraqi Governing Council members. In the run-up to the war, the Iraqi National Congress, a group of Iraqi exiles that Chalabi heads, provided bogus evidence of a connection between Saddam Hussein’s regime and al Qaeda and the existence of weapons of mass destruction. (Most infamous were the claims fed to the U.S. about supposed mobile bio-weapons labs, labs that were mentioned by Secretary Colin Powell in his crucial prewar speech to the U.N.). The I.N.C. continues to receive $340,000 a month for providing “intelligence” to the Pentagon, but the political and economic rewards it reaped from being propelled to power by the United States in a country in which it is widely distrusted even hated, have been much more valuable.
Now, Chalabi’s position is threatened. He has no base of support in Iraq. (According to a February poll conducted by Oxford Research International, only 0.2% of Iraqis said Chalabi was the leader they trusted most, whereas 10.3% named him as the Fox News, Chalabi said that:
“Mr. Brahimi is an Algerian with an Arab nationalist agenda. He already is a controversial figure in Iraq. He is not a unifying figure. He is supposed to be a unifying figure, so he can choose a government that will be effective. And I hope that he will work out a way to respond to the wishes of the Iraqi people that is commensurate with what they think they should have. And I believe that he should be more sensitive to the realities of Iraq.”
The “wishes of the Iraqi people” are for elections—and before that, security—but fortunately for Chalabi, he can champion them precisely because he knows that they can’t be held anytime soon. If they were, his party would poll disastrously; hence, he needs the Americans to secure the I.N.C.’s participation in the post-June 30th government. Meanwhile, Chalabi insists that he himself has no plans to sit on the new government.
The I.N.C. casts its insistence on the Governing Council’s right to determine who will be in and out of the new government as a matter of democracy. However, it is not clear how 1) U.S. selection of the transitional government would be more democratic than a U.N. one and 2) how the current Governing Council members deciding if they should keep their own jobs or not aids the democratic cause. All the while Chalabi insists that he himself has no plans to sit on the new government.
Chalabi’s spokeman Entifadh Qanbar told the National Press Club that:
“Iraqis have fought and died for this day, and it is not acceptable that we replace [U.S.] occupation with U.N. supervision” and that the U.N. plan “seems to me almost like a coup, something the Iraqi people will not accept… Brahimi cannot exclude people or appoint people. It is impossible to exclude not only Chalabi, but those who participated in the liberation of Iraq.”
When the U.S., heeding Brahimi’s advice, partially reversed its policy of de-Baathification—which excludes former Baath party members from serving the new government—Chalabi decried the decision as equivalent to “allowing Nazis into the German government immediately after World War II.” At the same time, Chalabi has refused to admit what was an obvious reversal of U.S. policy and instead claimed that this was merely a speeding of an existing appeals process. This was a rather disingenuous effort to concede that the U.S. listened to Brahimi, not him.
Chalabi says he’s the victim of a malicious media and political campaign against him. Yet Chalabi’s problems—past and present—are many, and do not support the image of the selfless fighter for Iraqi democracy he’d like to project. A Jordanian court has sentenced him in absentia for fraud and embezzlement of $288 million. Chalabi has denied the charges and blamed Saddam. The State Department and C.I.A. didn’t view the intelligence provided by the I.N.C. as credible. The Pentagon did, and Chalabi had a strong ally in vice-president Dick Cheney. To this day, Chalabi insists that there was a link between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein and that he has handed over documents to the U.S. proving that this is so. (Of course, if any such documents really did exist, we would not hear the end of it from the Bush administration.)
Just as audaciously, Chalabi has denied that the I.N.C. ever coached the defectors to say what the Bush administration wanted to hear, that it never vouched for the defectors’ credibility, that it bears no responsibility for the intelligence failures or for the U.S. decision to invade Iraq. As Chalabi told 60 Minutes:
“I mean that people, intelligence people who are supposed to do a better job for their country and their government did not do such a good job.”
Indeed, they didn’t, but clearly neither did the I.N.C. That it was in the I.N.C.’s interest to provide intelligence that would hasten the U.S. decision to topple Saddam and give Chalabi a political role he would never have achieved on his own, is more than clear. The fact that despite I.N.C.’s proven track-record of providing bogus intelligence, the U.S. government continues to fund it to do more of the same makes the whole Chalabi saga even more outrageous. As former weapons inspector David Kay said:
“You know, once taken, excused. … Twice taken you’re an idiot. And I think we’re now at the point of we’re really an idiot.”
Once in Iraq, the 600 fighters the I.N.C. provided, quickly run afoul the very U.S. military which brought them in. As Time magazine reports:
“When the C.I.A. refused to provide weapons to his ragtag band of mercenaries, the Pentagon armed them over the agency’s objections. Within days of their arrival, some of Chalabi’s forces claimed houses, buildings, document caches and vehicles in Baghdad that belonged to the former regime. Eventually the U.S. disarmed those members of the militia it could still track down.”
From presenting bogus intelligence as fact to sitting on a unrepresentative and unpopular government passed off as the wish of the masses, Chalabi personifies all that went wrong and continues to go wrong in the U.S.’s war and occupation of Iraq. If the post-June 30th government is to have any credibility, it will be one in which Chalabi has no part.