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Ahmed Chalabi emerges as key player in Iraq election after falling-out with US

Ahead of the March 7 Iraq election, Ahmed Chalabi, who helped convince former President Bush to invade and create a democracy at peace with Israel, is promoting a regional alliance that would include US adversary Iran.

By Staff writer / March 5, 2010

Iraqi Shiite politician and the candidate of Iraqi National Alliance bloc, Ahmed Chalabi, speaks at a campaign rally Friday. The Iraqi elections are scheduled for March 7.

Saad Shalash/Reuters

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Ahmed Chalabi, the man who helped convince former President George W. Bush that invading Iraq would transform the Arab world into a haven of democracy at peace with Israel, is back as a key player in the Iraqi election.

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Mr. Chalabi, a member of a slate of electoral candidates mostly drawn from Islamist Shiite parties, was deeply involved in a de-Baathification committee that disqualified about 500 secular candidates from running in the election and briefly had some Sunni politicians inside Iraq considering a boycott.

While the boycott won't happen, Chalabi's role in the disqualification of candidates from rival parties – even as he runs on a slate the includes men alleged to have participated in the sectarian violence of Iraq's civil war – increases the sectarian tension around Sunday's election. It's also a symbol of the gains Iran has made thanks to the removal of Saddam Hussein, Iraq's secular Sunni dictator and an avowed enemy of the regime in Tehran. Chalabi has cordial relations with the leaders of the Shiite theocracy next door, as do most of the senior crop of Shiite politicians in Iraq.

Gen. Ray Odierno, the commander of US forces in Iraq, said at a conference hosted by the Institute for the Study of War in Washington in late February that the disqualifications were "clearly planned very carefully by certain individuals, Ahmed Chalabi and others who ... I would argue are getting support by other nations who in fact are trying to push very specific agendas inside Iraq."

An inveterate political survivor

Though it seems unlikely Chalabi will lead the next Iraqi government – a poll released in Baghdad last week showed his electoral slate, which has him as its third most senior candidate, drawing 17 percent support – he has reaffirmed once again that he remains a powerful player inside the new Iraq.

That perhaps shouldn't be surprising. Chalabi is an inveterate political survivor. In the 1980s, his Petra Bank was a powerful player in Jordan and he was close to that country's ruling family. In 1989, when his bank collapsed after a series of dubious loans to companies connected to him were uncovered, he fled the country just days before an arrest warrant. In 1992, he was sentenced in absentia by a Jordanian court to 22 years in jail for embezzlement.

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