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Why is Ahmad Chalabi still at large?

2004.06.18 — Government | War | by BB Rodriguez

Chalabi headquarters

Chalabi's pagoda headquarters [AP]

The United States government was duped by a charismatic con man so skilled that he has bilked the feds out of $39 million. He lied extensively about Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs and got us into a war that has cost billions of dollars and a thousand lives. We knew he was a liar—he admitted he’s a liar… and we kept paying him.

Exposés in Newsweek, Time, and the New Yorker, among others, have unmasked Ahmad Chalabi as a self-serving man-who-would-be-king in Iraq. He began peddling his stories in the early 90s, but the CIA and FBI weren’t biting, and the Clinton administration, wary as it was about Saddam, knew enough to distrust the tales after the debacle in the previous Bush administration in the infamous baby-incubator story.

But Chalabi found a fast friend in the Bush administration. He charmed high-level officials and Congressmen. They loved him so much that they gave him money… lots of it. He established the Iraqi National Congress and got $33 million in funding from the US State Department. When Colin Powell got burned by the faulty intelligence Chalabi (among others) had fed him to present to the UN, he cut off funding. But Chalabi got another $6 million from the Department of Defense, where his real friends were all along.

He charmed high-level officials and Congressmen. They loved him so much that they gave him money… lots of it.

Today, those friends: Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, and Richard Perle, deny any intimacy, especially since they discovered Chalabi had gone to Iraq and hired 700 gunmen. His men seized thousands of documents for use against former regime officials, and Chalabi and his cronies have now been accused of kidnapping, extortion, spying for Iran, and even torture (join the club).

On May 20, Iraqi and American troops raided Chalabi’s pagoda headquarters, authorized apparently by Paul Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority. But they merely seized documents and computers. Why not Chalabi himself? The CPA spokesman claimed that the raid was the result of an Iraqi investigation, but the organization—like much of what goes on in Iraq—is murky.

Why not arrest Chalabi, charge him with some of the things we know he committed, and drag him in front of a US or Iraqi court? Apparently, that would be too embarrassing for the Bush administration.

It's more likely that the US will pressure the Iraqi leadership to arrest Chalabi and extridite him to Jordan, where he is wanted in a huge banking scandal. For the last couple of years, the Bush administration has pooh-poohed Jordan's accusations and requestions to have Chalabi turned over to them. But now that he's become a liability, he'll probably get snatched in the night and ridden out of Iraq on a rail.

If things had gone a little differently, Chalabi might have taken over Iraq and become a hardline secular dictator. Instead, it will probably fall into infighting and possibly full-scale religious civil war. That's not much of a trade.


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