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Why did the U.S. dump Chalabi?

By Lance Selfa | June 4, 2004 | Page 9

IT LOOKS like Ahmad Chalabi is finding out that the only thing worse than being an enemy is being a "friend" of the U.S. who has fallen out with his patron. Chalabi, the Bush neoconservatives' favorite to run a "free" Iraq, is facing sensational charges that he and his exile organization, the Iraqi National Congress (INC), played an elaborate con on the U.S. at the behest of the Iranian intelligence services.

At least that's what Chalabi's enemies in the State Department and the CIA have been leaking to the press. It's hard to believe that, no matter how much Iran hated Saddam Hussein, it would have wanted to lure the U.S. into a multiyear occupation right next door. But the charges that Chalabi may have been an agent of Iran are a sign of how much some sections of the U.S. government want to jettison him.

It couldn't have happened to a more deserving person. Chalabi is the scion of a wealthy Shiite Iraqi family that made its money from collaborating with Britain, Iraq's colonial overseer, and its local puppet, the Hashemite monarchy. He is currently under sentence in Jordan for bank fraud.

But to the neocons, he was supposed to be the George Washington of Iraq. "Chalabi told people in high places what they already believed--that Saddam was hiding weapons of mass destruction and that he might give them to bin Laden," one intelligence official told Knight Ridder reporter John Walcott. He also indulged their fantasies that a pro-U.S. regime in Iraq (led, no doubt, by Chalabi) would embrace Israel and the U.S. plan to "democratize" the Middle East. Even more outrageously, the Pentagon allowed the INC to make off with truckloads of Saddam's intelligence agency files on Iraqis, which would have come in handy when Chalabi wanted to discredit other potential claimants to rule Iraq.

Only the willfully blind could have not seen that he was a shady con man with no popular support in Iraq.

Nevertheless, the campaign to sideline Chalabi has more to do with machinations in Washington than Iraq and Iran. With the Iraq war and occupation having become a disaster, and with an increasing section of the political establishment losing confidence in the Bush administration, someone had to be the scapegoat. Chalabi is only the easiest target on a list that goes right to Cheney and Rumsfeld.

The idea that a well-known con man would peddle lies to get what he wanted is hardly a revelation. But the real culprits are the high officials who used these lies to promote the Iraqi adventure.

Chalabi was mainly useful as a conduit for disinformation used not to mislead high government officials, but to mislead the American public. The New York Times latest mea culpa for having contributed to the hysteria over Saddam's nonexistent weapons of mass destruction by printing fabrications from INC-aligned Iraqi defectors.

It's hard to say whether Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld really believed all the nonsense Chalabi fed them. More likely, they didn't really care. They believed the Iraqi adventure would go so well that no one would care to find out just how the U.S. got into the war in the first place.

With the Iraqi adventure turning into a quagmire, a change of course was needed. The "transition plan" the U.S. is working out through United Nations ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi sidelined Chalabi, who responded by becoming increasingly critical of the U.S.

So Chalabi became expendable. Look for more revelations about the corruption and double-dealing of Chalabi and his friends. Meanwhile, the real architects of this disaster--from Bush on down--are unlikely to face the trials and jail time they so richly deserve.

If Chalabi ends up behind bars, he'll follow in the footsteps of former U.S. allies who fell out with Washington, from Ngo Dinh Diem to Manuel Noriega and Saddam Hussein. So maybe the joke is on Chalabi after all.

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