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.
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.Skip to next paragraph
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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.
He fell out with the US – which had mulled installing Chalabi as interim ruler following the ouster of President Hussein – almost immediately after the US invasion. US commanders were chagrined to learn that rather than thousands of Iraqis flocking to his standard, as promised, few average citizens had ever heard of the man. The failure to find the chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction that Chalabi had assured them Hussein was hoarding added to their frustration.
US forces raided his offices in Baghdad in early 2004 on suspicion he was passing US intelligence to Iran. That's a charge Chalabi denied, though the US cut ties. But even then, people who knew him well said it would be a mistake to write his political obituary.
"The one thing you can say for sure about Chalabi is that you can never count him out,'' Ghassan Attiya, a former political ally of Chalabi's in the Iraqi National Congress, the US-supported exile organization that Chalabi led during Hussein's rule, told the Monitor in 2004. "He's an incredible political survivor ... an incredible charmer."