OpinionMeister

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Chalabi for Iraqi PM?

The New York Sun reports that Ahmad Chalabi, founder of the Iraqi National Congress, a leading anti-Saddam exile organization, is first in line to be the Prime Minister choice of the United Iraqi Alliance, which appears to have won the largest number of seats in the transitional Iraqi Assembly. Link.
In a phone interview yesterday with The New York Sun, Mr. Chalabi said he had said yes to the request from prominent members of the United Iraqi Alliance list, the slate of candidates that will likely control a majority of seats in the transitional national assembly to be announced in the coming days.

Among Mr. Chalabi's supporters is the leader of a resistance against Saddam Hussein in southern Iraq in 1991, Abdul Karim Al Muhammadawi, known as the "prince of the marshes." Mr. Chalabi has also garnered support from a former member of the Iraqi Governing Council, Salama al-Khufaji,who is one of the highest-ranking women on the UIA list. Mr. Chalabi also draws support from the Shiite Political Council, the organization he helped build this summer after he was excluded from the interim government headed by Prime Minister Allawi.

If Mr. Chalabi manages to secure enough support to be prime minister of Iraq, it will mark an extraordinary comeback for the man most analysts wrote off last May, when American and Iraqi soldiers raided his home and confiscated computers on charges that he had employed thugs to bully bureaucrats in the finance ministry. Throughout last summer, Mr. Chalabi was targeted by an untrained judge appointed by the Americans; all charges were eventually dropped. The CIA had written off the former banker as having no political base in Iraq, while leading Democratic politicians blamed him for fabricating intelligence on Saddam Hussein's links to Al Qaeda and arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.

Before the Iraqi war, Chalabi was a source of one of the major rifts within the Administration, with strong support by the Defense Department and fanatical opposition by the State Department and the CIA. Redstate sums up the opposition:
From the beginning Chalabi was not a favorite of the State Department. While Chalabi nearly single-handedly pushed the Iraq Liberation Act through Congress the State Department, allegedly at the behest of the Saudi government, engaged in a campaign to shut down the Iraqi National Congress. When that campaign failed, State dragged its feet in funding the INC as required by Congress. The problem was only solved when the Defense Department took over that role in 2002.

Chalabi had also run afoul of the CIA because he treated the information he provided the CIA as currency in his campaign to free Iraq rather than the crown jewels. (...)

Ultimately both CIA and State succeeded in having Chalabi portrayed in the US media as a crook and a conniver who had no political base in Iraq and no political future in a new Iraq

Sometimes you just have to judge a man by who his friends and enemies are. I have no independent knowledge of Chalabi, but throughout the last few years, whenever I read about him I thought, "With Donald Rumsfeld on his side, and Colin Powell and George Tenant against him, he probably is someone we can trust."

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