How Ahmed Chalabi Started the War in Iraq

Artvoice | June 1, 2004
How Ahmed Chalabi Started the War in Iraq by Jamie Moses Artvoice George W. Bush likes to present himself as a simple, straightforward man. Despite his Yale education and his Northeastern blue-blood pedigree, Bush, a former heavy drinker, sobered up, found Christ, and reinvented himself as a tough Texas cowpoke. He boasts that he doesn’t read books or newspapers, preferring, instead, that his advisers do the reading for him. He hates complicated reports that land on his desk and he clearly has difficulty with the English language. When Bush was host to King Abdullah II of Jordan two weeks ago it was somewhat embarrassing that King Abdullah, an Arab foreigner, was far better spoken and articulate in English than the president of the United States. Added to that embarrassment was the fact that rather than apologize to the Iraqi people for the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison, Bush with great discomfort chose instead to apologize to the king of Jordan, a different country. As might be expected, Bush clings to a simple definition of leadership: just be determined, show resolve and “stay the course” on whatever decision you’ve made. A simple man. Unfortunately, where Bush proudly views himself as a simple man, others view him as a simpleton. The recent book by Bob Woodward, "Plan of Attack," is a startling picture of just how easily a man like president Bush can be manipulated. Unlike the so-called “Bush bashing” books by Al Franken, Michael Moore, David Corn, Molly Ivins and a host of others, Woodward’s book is a professional journalist’s dry, fact gathering story. But it reveals a rogue government within the government run by unelected civilian neo-conservatives ruling the Pentagon with the complicit aid of vice-president Dick Cheney. Cheney and his aide “Scooter” Libby, Paul Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld and Douglas Feith of the Department of Defense, Pentagon adviser Richard Perle (known in Washington circles as “The Prince of Darkness”), and a group of appointed neo-con undersecretaries and deputies make all the big decisions. While this group certainly gives the president the courtesy of seeking his approval, which of course they need, it’s clear that Bush is forcefully swept along by their momentum and their persuasion. Anyone outside this tightknit group of plotters gets pushed out of the administration, like former Secretary of the Treasury Paul H. O’Neill who was alarmed at the rampaging deficit, or former EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman who bucked Cheney on gutting the Clean Air Act. If they can’t push a dissenter out because the political damage is too costly, as in the case of Colin Powell, they simply leave them in the cold, out of the loop, and with little access to the president. Against this bizarre presidential landscape an equally bizarre figure named Ahmed Chalabi snaked his way into the lair of the neo-con decision makers, and no one was ever more welcome. Since the early 1990s this anti-Saddam Iraqi exile had been used by the CIA and major news media as a source of intelligence. But Chalabi was not a new face to many in this group. The highly intelligent Chalabi, whose wealthy family fled Iraq in 1958, enrolled at MIT at 16 and earned a degree in mathematics. He then took a Ph.D. in math at the University of Chicago in 1969. While at Chicago, Chalabi was introduced to future neo-conservative movement leaders Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz. Soon after graduating, Chalabi went into banking. Immediately after the overthrow of the Shah of Iran, Chalabi established his ties with the Iranian Shia theocracy, and he brags that he has a copy of the Koran signed by Ayatollah Khomeini. The Iranian regime set up a substantial intelligence apparatus in Lebanon among the oppressed local Shia. Meanwhile, Chalabi was living in Jordan in the 1980s, where he served as chairman of the Petra Bank, and he was busy funneling Petra depositor funds to Iranian allied militia groups and Hezbollah terrorists in Beirut. His various cloak-and-dagger operations in Jordan ended abruptly in August 1989 when Jordan asked all banks to show them their books. He fled the country in the trunk of a car. In 1992 Jordan convicted him in absentia for embezzlement, fraud and currency-trading irregularities, sentencing him to 22 years’ hard labor. Jordan was left to foot the bill of over $250 million to compensate Chalabi’s bank fraud victims. (For in depth details of Chalabi’s biography check Chalabi article posted 5/28/04) In 1980 Iraq fought a war with Iran that lasted eight years and claimed a million lives. During this terrible war, Saddam, who at the time was the darling of the Reagan administration, used chemical weapons supplied by the U.S. against Iran. At the end of the war both countries were bankrupt and exhausted, and Iran and Turkey were playing host to over a million Iraqi Shiite Muslims who had fled Saddam’s Sunni regime. The war ended but the enmity never subsided, and both Iran and Iraq continued to carry on covert operations against each other through their intelligence agencies. Although Iran remained neutral during the first Gulf War in 1991 there’s little doubt they were praying for Saddam’s destruction. A reliable source who has close personal ties to the Saudi royal family told Artvoice that at the end of the Gulf War a primary reason coalition forces didn’t go all the way to Baghdad was because the Saudis were fearful that the Shiite majority in Iraq would end up in control and threaten Saudi oil wells in eastern Saudi Arabia, which borders Iraq. Eastern Saudi Arabia has a Shiite majority and the Saudis, who are Sunni Muslims, are known to be harshly oppressive of that population. If the Shiite theocracy in Iran suddenly had an ally in a Shiite controlled Iraq it might inspire the Saudi Shiites to revolt with the backing of both Iraq and Iran, and they might lose their oil wells. As an incentive to their friends in the U.S., the Saudis plunked down $50 billion in a lump sum payment toward the cost of the Gulf War—more than double the amount coughed up by all the other coalition forces combined. Immediately following the Gulf War, Chalabi became a CIA asset. But he was a disaster. No one in the CIA trusted him, he produced little results and there was evidence that his funding requests contained triple billing, inflated costs, unexplained missing cash, etc. He tried desperately to drag the Clinton administration into a war with Iraq but Clinton would have no part of him and by 1995 the CIA pretty much cut him loose. Chalabi was soon broke, or nearly so, but in 1998 Chalabi charmed his right-wing supporters, like Perle, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld and others, who managed to skillfully lobby Congress to provide funding for his organization, the Iraqi National Congress. The INC proved to be ineffective and pretty much a money draining joke. But the neo-cons held onto their boy for future use. Once George W. Bush was elected the old gang was back in power. And then 9/11 happened. As we’ve heard so many times, nothing was ever the same after 9/11. As Newsweek reported, “the neocons in the Bush cabinet, led by Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz, were ready to march on Baghdad before the World Trade Center stopped smoldering. President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary Rumsfeld were all itching to show off American strength. The rest of the government and the American people needed some persuading. Ever the opportunist, Chalabi came along to tell the war hawks just what they wanted to hear—and to provide the sort of frightening ‘evidence’ that could galvanize the nation into action.” Chalabi even participated in a secret Defense Policy Board meeting just a few days after the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and the Pentagon in which the main topic of discussion, according to the Wall Street Journal, was how 9/11 could be used as a pretext for attacking Iraq. So the 9/11 terrorist attacks changed everything. With Chalabi, a Shiite, now a rising star among the Bush administration schemers, Iran was presented with an opportunity they could only have dreamed about. Through Chalabi and his close relationship with the powerful neo-cons, Iran could feed the U.S. false intelligence and get the Americans to use the world’s mightiest military power exact revenge on Saddam. Americans would pay the financial cost and it would be Americans who would die. Furthermore, if the Americans tried to introduce democracy to Iraq, the Iranians could bet their majority Shiite brethren would take control of the country. Chalabi began coming up with documents forged by Iran and with a steady stream of Iraqi defectors who told both government officials and reporters stories of Saddam’s allying with terrorists and stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. In December 2001, Chalabi produced a defector who told The New York Times that he had seen biological- and nuclear-weapons labs hidden around Baghdad, including one underneath a hospital. Another defector told Vanity Fair Iraq was training terrorists to hijack passenger planes at a secret base near Baghdad. The CIA at the time dismissed it as “bullshit.” Chalabi also pushed a story about a secret meeting in Prague between 9/11 hijacker Muhammad Atta and an Iraqi intelligence officer. After investigating, the CIA determined the meeting never took place, and in an unusual move the New York Times today, (Wednesday, May 26) printed an editorial apology to the American people for printing so many false stories without even attempting to verify their veracity. They reported the defector who claimed to have seen biological weapons labs was recently taken to the locations he cited and confronted with his lies. Regardless of the many doubters, until recently Chalabi was riding high. When President Bush went to the United Nations last September to proclaim a free Iraq, the man sitting in Iraq’s seat at the General Assembly was Ahmad Chalabi, and just last January, Chalabi was seated behind First Lady Laura Bush at the State of the Union Message. Chalabi even got to participate somewhat in Operation Iraqi Freedom. As part of their propaganda campaign the neo-cons wanted Chalabi to build an Iraqi-exile military force. They spent millions of taxpayer dollars, took over a military base in Hungary, and sent over hundreds of U.S. soldiers as camp instructors to wait for Chalabi to deliver his thousands of promised exiles. Less than a 100 showed up. The so-called volunteers were paid $300 a week and the camp commander said they were all either too old, too overweight or too undisciplined to ever make soldiers. One family of three showed up: two brothers and their father, Iraqi exiles living in Los Angeles. The youngest sat around listening to Tupac on headphones all day. The drill instructors named him Two-pack, his brother Three-pack, and their beer bellied father Six-pack. Nonetheless, Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress “entourage” were airlifted into southern Iraq by the Pentagon shortly after the American invasion in April 2003. But last week it all fell apart for Chalabi. Besides a long list of lies and mounting evidence of corruption, blackmail and ripping off American tax dollars going to Iraq, Chalabi’s ties to Iran have surfaced and alarmed both his allies and his enemies in the Bush administration. Those ties were highlighted on Monday, when Newsweek reported that “U.S. officials say that electronic intercepts of discussions between Iranian leaders indicate that Chalabi and his entourage told Iranian contacts about American political plans in Iraq.” According to one government source, some of the information he gave Iran “could get people killed.” This is the man the neo-cons believed was going to help Americans reshape the troubled Middle East in their own image. The man who promised that American troops would be showered with flowers and kisses in every city of Iraq. The man who promised the U.S. would be allowed to build its own military base in Iraq. He also promised he would open an oil line from Mosul to Israel–nevermind that it would have to run through Jordan. And because it served their interests, the neo-cons in the Bush administration willingly engaged in this fantasy. In spite of being warned by the State Department, the CIA, foreign policy analysts and former government officials that Chalabi was lying to them, the Bushies plunged pigheadedly forward. On Tuesday, the Financial Times of Europe carried a headline that read “Iran accused of duping Pentagon over Iraqi WMD.” The story said Washington is investigating whether Iran was responsible for misleading the U.S. about Iraq’s alleged weapons capabilities by passing on false information through Ahmed Chalabi. It reported that both the CIA and FBI are investigating this and also whether Mr. Chalabi provided classified information to Iran about U.S. troop movements and plans for Iraq. In the May 31 issue of Newsweek the raid by Iraqi police of Chalabi’s home and offices are described as a shock to the neo-cons at the Pentagon. “For the hard-liners at the Defense Department,” wrote Newsweek, “the raid came as a surprise. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his senior deputies, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, got the news from the media. When Iraqi police, guarded by American GIs, burst into the home and offices of Ahmad Chalabi [they actually put a gun to Chalabi’s head], looking for evidence of kidnapping, embezzlement, torture and theft, the men who run the Pentagon were left asking some uncomfortable questions. ‘Who signed off on this raid?’ wondered one very high-ranking official.” Chalabi is probably more dangerous now than ever. Behaving like a wounded lion, Chalabi seems ready to sacrifice all of Iraq if it means he can survive. He’s furiously whipping up anti-American sentiment and reinventing himself as a Shiite champion desperately trying to expel the Americans from his beloved Iraq and chanting slogans like “Let my people go!” George Bush often compares himself to World War II giants Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. He brags that he uses the same desk FDR used and he placed a bronze bust of Churchill in his office, which he says, “watches everything I do.” But in light of his willingness to be blindly led by dangerous neo-con plotters and equally dangerous apocalyptic evangelicals, it appears FDR’s desk and Churchill’s bronze bust are mere props for a failing president lacking any substance of his own. I don’t think this country can possibly prosper if this simpleton spends another four years indulging his delusion of grandeur.


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