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How Far the Mighty Have Fallen

The fall of Ahmad Chalabi, the darling of the right, from leader of a free Iraq to embarrassing liability is another black eye for the Pentagon.
 
 
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The raids on the residence and offices of Ahmad Chalabi mark the end of warm relations between the former exile and the Bush administration. The genie, however, may not be so easy to return to the bottle. After years of giving Chalabi power, money and influence, he reigns over a web of control "that stretches from the oil industry to the banking system to the purges of former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party."

Analysts say that "unless the Bush administration moves to dismantle his empire, Chalabi will continue controlling much of Iraq's politics from behind the scenes, and he could seriously disrupt American plans for turning over nominal sovereignty to a new Iraqi government on June 30." The fall of the darling of the right from leader of a free Iraq to embarrassing liability is another black eye for the Pentagon, which built its case for war based on unreliable and self-serving intelligence it received from Chalabi. The White House planned for massive stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction; a war which would pay for itself; a small postwar stabilization force; and a population ready to welcome American troops as liberators.

Ahmad Chalabi responded to being jilted by his American protectors with agitated outrage, biting the hand that has fed him so long for so well. Speaking at a press conference after the raid on his complex, "Chalabi said his relationship with the Coalition Provisional Authority ' now is non-existent.'" He also ominously predicted, "If America treats its friends this way, then they are in big trouble."

Friday's papers point to a pivotal moment that pulled the wool from many U.S. officials' eyes. Chalabi had convinced his backers that he would be able to rally large numbers of Iraqis into taking up the sword against Saddam. In 1998, he convinced backers like Trent Lott (R-MS) and Jesse Helms to shove the Iraq Liberation Fund through Congress, which then poured millions into his group, ostensibly to encourage mass defections from Saddam's armies and take control of the country. That never happened, but a year ago, "as U.S. troops swept toward Baghdad, Ahmad Chalabi and about 400 hastily assembled fighters were secretly airlifted into southern Iraq to rally other Iraqis and begin a march toward Baghdad to help topple Saddam Hussein. Chalabi had predicted that he would become Iraq's Spartacus, mobilizing vast numbers behind him, according to U.S. officials." That's not what happened. "Instead of being the warrior-king who liberated town after town, 'he was jeered more than cheered. Iraqis were shouting him down. It was embarrassing,'" said another U.S. official. "We had to help bail him out." Even with this evidence that Chalabi was unable to rally the Iraqis, the White House threw good money after bad and continued to fund him to the tune of $340,000 a month until last week.

Conservatives were quick to seize on Chalabi as the hope of the future. Sens. Trent Lott (R-MS) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), as well as "Sen. Sam Brownback and David Schieffer, the [then] ambassador at large for war crimes," all "pledged their support" at a 1999 Iraqi National Congress summit in New York. Time Magazine wrote on 11/8/99 that Lott claimed, "I have repeatedly stated that the Iraqi National Congress has been effective in the past and can be effective in the future." And according to a 10/20/98 WP article, in 1998, Sen. Trent Lott called the legislation which poured money into INC coffers for an Iraqi revolution 'a major step forward in the final conclusion of the Persian Gulf War." (Nonsense, said Middle East analyst Kenneth Pollack at the time. "I think it would be a bloodbath...It would be criminal for the U.S. to go ahead and back these people...I think the legislation is idiotic.")

Perhaps Ahmad Chalabi's largest backer was senior Pentagon adviser Richard Perle, a major advocate of going to war with Iraq. Instead of admitting the egregious error in handing this power-mad exile so much money and power, Perle defended him to the end, even taking a swipe at the United States. Yesterday, Perle said, "The CIA despises Chalabi; the State Department despises him. They did everything they could to put him out of business. Now there is a deliberate effort to marginalize him." Perle added, "He has devoted his life to freeing his country...He is a man of enormous intelligence, and I believe the effort to marginalize him will fail. They will end up looking ridiculous."

The WSJ reports, "Recent intelligence, including communications intercepts, suggest Chalabi...provided contacts in Tehran with details of U.S. security operations and political plans, the officials said." As the rest of the squalid Chalabi story unfolds, here's the question to ask: How did Chalabi get the top secret information in the first place? The FBI is investigating, but their main interstest "is not in Chalabi," said an FBI official. "Our interest is in how he got the information" that he allegedly gave to Iran. "He wasn't privy to information about our operatives and I don't think we'd trust the guy with the kind of secrets that would get our people killed," he said.