|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
On the street in Iraq, people give nicknames to the big longtime-expatriate politicians whom the Americans brought back to Iraq. They call former transitional Prime Minister Iyad Allawi "Iyad the Baathist" because of his background in that party. And they call Ahmad Chalabi "Ahmad the Thief." How appropriate that Chalabi has again made a splash in a Washington, D.C., that looks increasingly like a kleptocracy itself.
On the surface Chalabi ought to be finished in Iraqi politics. But until Dec. 15, he is a deputy prime minister. His meetings in Washington this week with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley acknowledge his high political office -- even though not so long ago the Bush administration tried to destroy him. What accounts for the turnabout in his political fortunes in the United States? Credit the shifting political winds in Iraq -- and perhaps yet more savvy back-channel dealings by Chalabi with the Bush administration. It can't be because of his rap sheet, whole reams of pages long.
Chalabi provided copious amounts of false intelligence to the United States in the late 1990s and through the run-up to the Iraq war. The defectors, con men and crooks he supplied to the CIA and the Pentagon made all sorts of extravagant and ridiculous claims that were eagerly swallowed by the hawks in the Bush administration.
One source, known as "Curveball," alleged that Iraq had mobile biological weapons labs, which is a contradiction in terms. One can only imagine what would have happened to Saddam's biologists, experimenting with dangerous microbes, when the trailer had a flat tire or hit a pothole. Chalabi's source nevertheless succeeded in getting such absurdities included in Colin Powell's presentation to the United Nations Security Council in February 2003.
Chalabi was convicted of massive bank fraud in Jordan in the early 1990s. He was given millions by the State Department and the CIA for the overthrow of Saddam, funds he never properly accounted for. When those agencies dropped him as a result, he cultivated contacts in the Pentagon instead.
In the spring of 2003, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his deputies, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, had a secret plan to install Ahmad Chalabi as a soft dictator of Iraq and to arrange some sort of phony elections that would make it look as though he had a mandate. Larry Diamond, in his book "Squandered Victory," writes that their plan was foiled by the State Department, which found out about it. The State Department convinced George W. Bush that it would be a disaster, and he agreed to send to Iraq a former State Department official, Paul "Jerry" Bremer to forestall such Pentagon flights of fancy.
By the spring of 2004, serious charges were launched against Chalabi, presumably at Bremer's behest. He was accused of passing top-secret information to the Iranian government: that the United States had broken Iranian encryption codes. That is, before Chalabi allegedly spilled the beans, U.S. intelligence had deep access to what Iranian government officials said among themselves. After the Chalabi incident, Iran became more opaque to the United States, which already struggled to find out about what was going on inside the country. Chalabi was also charged with having in his possession counterfeit bills.
He managed, however, to survive the indictment. Soon after his indictment the Americans "transferred sovereignty" to the appointed government of Iyad Allawi. Further prosecution of Chalabi would have undertaken by the new government, which apparently was not keen to follow up. It remains unclear how it transpired or who was behind it, but gradually the judge in the case was marginalized and reassigned.
By the fall of 2004, Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress had joined the major Shiite coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance, and he gained the no. 10 spot on the party slate. The UIA, which was endorsed by the spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, won 51 percent of the 275 seats in the Iraqi Parliament and was able to form a government in coalition with the Kurdistan Alliance. Chalabi managed to get himself installed as a deputy prime minister. He then parlayed that position into oversight of foreign contracts proposed for Iraq.
That Chalabi, a wily schemer and convicted crook, should continue his sleazy attempts to get control of Iraq's billions in petroleum revenues is completely unsurprising. That a scandal-ridden Bush administration should warmly welcome the fraudster to Washington yet again and have him hobnob with top officials shows profound disrespect for U.S. troops risking their lives in Iraq. Chalabi lied to and manipulated the American public, reportedly passed top-secret information to Iran, and for a while allied with Muqtada al-Sadr. Officials in the administration are apparently hoping that the American public won't notice that they are playing the same old games, with U.S. foreign policy and with Iraq. As we know all too well by now, they are disastrous games.