In my years of work
with the Iraqi opposition, I am often asked why certain factions in the United States government are so opposed to Ahmed Chalabi,
head of the Iraqi National
Congress. The answer is
complicated, filled with bureaucratic intrigue, foreign interests, hurt egos
and all the usual components of a good Washington policy saga. But the best short
recitation I have ever seen is in Jim Hoaglandís masterful piece in
todayís Washington Post. It is
an excellent analysis of why a dedicated opponent of Saddam Hussein attracts
so much (mostly anonymous) criticism. The worry of the critics is
not that Chalabi will fail -- their real fear is that he will succeed.
I have also attached a Reuters story describing Chalabiís recent activities in Iraq
Who is Chalabi?
By Jim Hoagland
Wednesday, April 9, 2003
You are hearing a lot about Ahmed Chalabi right now. Much of it is not true. Worse, you are
not hearing what you need to know about a man who is neither an Iraqi puppet
for U.S. forces nor a conniving political fortune hunter taking the Bush administration
for a ride.
The antiwar, anti-Bush, anti-change-in-Iraq crowd spreads the puppet version to smear this Iraqi exile leader, while State Department and CIA senior officials peddle the fortune-hunter image. Both groups use Chalabi as a dartboard to serve their own interests or those of their Arab clients. Their objections reveal more about their politics than his.
Like Iraq itself, Chalabi has learned in a lifetime of fighting Saddam Hussein from abroad to keep things hidden. We have known each other for 30 of his 58 years. But it was only two years ago that I fully understood why he had given up a banker's fortune, a life of academic achievement and material comfort and precious time with children he manifestly adores to oppose the Iraqi dictator in his every waking moment.
His sister had just died. A distraught Chalabi was preparing to leave London to arrange for her burial in the Syrian capital of Damascus.
This is the worst part," he said over the telephone. "I have to bury one more member of my family outside our country. I have buried my parents and my brother outside Iraq already. When will I bring them home?"
Chalabi was much closer to achieving that goal yesterday when I reached him by satellite telephone in Nasiriya. He and at least 700 members of the Free Iraqi Forces being trained by the U.S. military were flown over the weekend from northern Iraq into that southern city, which is inhabited largely by Iraqis who follow the Shiite branch of Islam -- as does Chalabi.
His religion is important both to the U.S. troops trying to work with Shiite clerics to calm the population in the south and to his critics in the State Department, who identify American interests with the authoritarian Sunni elites who run the Arab world. When you hear Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage maligning Chalabi, you hear the institutional voices of Saudi Arabia and Egypt speaking through him.
Chalabi was too busy yesterday to worry about the ugly polemics and race for influence that the impending collapse of Iraq's dictatorship has sparked in Washington. He had just returned from the town of Suq ash-Shuyukh, where seven civilians had been killed or wounded by U.S. forces in a "fog of war" incident.
"We were able to work out problems both sides felt they had in this tragedy," said Chalabi, who went on in exasperation: "This could have been avoided. It was a result of lack of knowledge by the U.S. soldiers about the region. We are here to participate in joint operations that will free and protect Iraqis, not to be anybody's puppets."
Like exiles and oppressed people everywhere, Chalabi has been forced to take support for his cause wherever he could find it. He worked closely with the shah of Iran in the 1970s to spark a rebellion against Baghdad, and with the CIA and the Clinton administration in the 1990s, until they too abandoned him.
Today it is Vice President Cheney, some Pentagon planners and neoconservative intellectuals (among others) who have absorbed his analysis of Iraq. That fact is offered as prima facie evidence that Chalabi is their creation and must be stopped. But that is the kind of guilt-by-association politics that Cheney once practiced in denouncing Nelson Mandela's African National Congress because it took support from Moscow and Moammar Gaddafi when American help was not available.
Such character assassination by remote control was wrong when practiced by the political right. It is no less wrong now for having been taken up by the left, by ex-Clintonites who fought Chalabi when he sought their help, and by those with personal or ideological scores to settle against Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz or Richard Perle. The attempt to get at them -- and ultimately at Bush's presidency -- by libeling Chalabi sets a new low in the stinking mess known as Washington politics.
This former math professor takes more pride in the doctorate his daughter Tamara has just received from Harvard than in any of his own accomplishments. He will be nobody's puppet. I doubt he will agree to serve in the Iraqi Interim Authority that will be created by a U.S. military government he has sought to prevent. Chalabi has a more pressing, more personal agenda in liberated Iraq. He first has to find burial plots for his family.
Greeted in Southern Town
- WASHINGTON (Reuters) -
The opposition Iraqi National Congress said on Tuesday leaders from across southern Iraq (news-) flocked to the town of Nassiriya to greet its leader Ahmad Chalabi, but a CIA (news -) report said he and other returning exiles would find little support among Iraqis. The classified CIA report appeared to be part of the long and bitter struggle within the Bush administration over whether Chalabi and his colleagues can be effective leaders.
Francis Brooke, a close adviser to the opposition leader, said local Iraqi leaders had brought requests for Chalabi to mediate with the U.S. military authorities on matters such as power supplies and people held as prisoners of war. "We have been receiving delegation upon delegation. We don't have time to meet them all. We are inundated," Brooke told Reuters in a telephone interview from Nassiriya. Some of them were initially skeptical of U.S. intentions because the Iraqis had seen no clear evidence the Americans were intent on eliminating the Baathist network set up over decades by President Saddam Hussein. Saddam's government is under siege by U.S.-led forces seeking to topple him and rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, which Iraq denies having.
The U.S. military flew Chalabi to Nassiriya on Sunday, giving the INC a head start over other Arab opposition groups in establishing a political presence under U.S. protection. It was a defeat for the State Department and the CIA, which do not believe Chalabi is a credible Iraqi leader. The CIA report said Iraqis would not favor leaders of opposition exile groups for leadership positions in a new government. "The bottom line is the Iraqi public does not view them favorably," a U.S. official familiar with it said. But analysts say Chalabi's return will put him in a strong position when the United States starts to put together an interim Iraqi authority to run the country. Brooke said the INC presence was useful but he doubted it would be a critical factor in forming a government. "It is a chance to demonstrate our popularity on the ground. But the interim Iraqi authority is part of a process which started in London (last year)," he added.
Chalabi left Iraq in 1958, when the monarchy was overthrown, but Brooke said many of his visitors had memories of his family. He is a Shi'ite Muslim, like most southerners.
The Bush administration plans to set up a big opposition meeting inside Iraq, but INC officials said on Tuesday that press reports of a meeting this week were premature. <br>" It's the Bush administration that's calling the meeting and deciding who's invited and what's the purpose. At the highest levels those questions are undecided," said one official, who asked not to be identified.
After their meeting in Northern Ireland, President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair added little to their timetable for forming a new temporary government to replace Saddam's. "As early as possible, we support the formation of an Iraqi Interim Authority, a transitional administration, run by Iraqis, until a permanent government is established by the people of Iraq ," the allied leaders said in a joint statement. Brooke said the main benefit of the INC presence was the role the Iraqi opposition could play helping U.S. and British forces know who among former Iraqi fighters was friendly. He confirmed a local militia allied to the INC took control of the southeastern town of Amara on Sunday but later withdrew when the CIA threatened it would be bombed. "There is the same sort of situation in lots of places and we are working frantically to resolve the situation. It's true in and around Nassiriya, neighborhoods of Basra , and it is obviously true in parts of Baghdad ," he said. Iraqi Kanan Makiya said in Washington on Tuesday the militia of several thousand armed men, led by a man named Abu Hatem Mohammed Ali, captured the headquarters of the Amara governorate, 230 miles southeast of Baghdad , without support from U.S. forces. He described Abu Hatem as a well-known guerrilla leader, a longtime contact of the INC and a man known to the Pentagon
"He was then told by a CIA officer whose name I do not know but who spoke perfect Arabic that he had to vacate that city. ... He was threatened with bombing and strafing of the building, the compound he took over, so he decided it would be better to be wise and he did withdraw in fact," he added.
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