Sunday, November 05, 2006

Ahmad Chalabi and the U.S. Misadventure in Iraq

For those who believe that Saddam Hussein's conviction somehow validates the U.S. misadventure in Iraq, allow me to recommend this lengthy piece in the New York Times Magazine on Ahmad Chalabi, the neocons' man who would be in charge of Iraq, were it not for the Iraqi people themselves.
Chalabi, who hadn't lived in Iraq for decades, managed to get the U.S. to fund his Iraqi National Congress, whose sole purpose was to push the U.S. into war. Chalabi's zeal in pushing for the U.S. to invade Iraq was matched only by the neocons' eagerness to accept the dubious intelligence the INC fed us.
A second report, released by the Senate Intelligence Committee in September 2006, reached far more damning conclusions. The report states flatly that Chalabi’s group introduced defectors to American intelligence who directly influenced two key judgments in the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, which preceded the Senate vote on the Iraq war: that Hussein possessed mobile biological-weapons laboratories and that he was trying to reconstitute his nuclear program. The report said that the I.N.C. provided a large volume of flawed intelligence to the United States about Iraq, saying the group “attempted to influence United States policy on Iraq by providing false information through defectors directed at convincing the United States that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and had links to terrorists.” (Five Republican senators disagreed with the report’s conclusions about the I.N.C.)
Chalabi’s denials are unconvincing for another reason. His role in the preparations for war was not just as a source for American intelligence agencies. He was America’s chief public advocate for war, spreading information gathered by his own intelligence network to newspapers, magazines, television programs and Congress. (A New York Times reporter, Judith Miller, was one of Chalabi’s primary conduits; in an e-mail message sent in 2003 that has been widely quoted since, she wrote that Chalabi “has provided most of the front-page exclusives on W.M.D. to our paper” and that the Army unit she was then traveling with was “using Chalabi’s intell and document network for its own W.M.D. work.”) Indeed, the press proved even more gullible than the intelligence experts in the American government. In a June 2002 letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee, the I.N.C. listed 108 news articles based on information provided by the group. The list included articles concerning some of the wildest claims about Hussein, including that he had collaborated in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Chalabi and the INC apparently knew how to cover their tracks enough to amplify the impact of their bogus intelligence:
Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell in Bush’s first term, adds a final turn to the labyrinth. In the frantic days leading up to Powell’s speech at the United Nations in February 2003, when he laid out the case for war, Wilkerson said he spent many nights sleeping on a couch in George Tenet’s office. During those preparations, Wilkerson told me, Powell insisted that every point he would make at the U.N. had to be supported by at least three independent sources.
“We had three or four sources for every item that was substantive in his presentation,” Wilkerson told me in an interview in Washington. “Powell insisted on that. But what I am hearing now, though, is that a lot of these sources sort of tinged and merged back into a single source, and that inevitably that single source seems to be either recommended by, set up by, orchestrated by, introduced by, or whatever, by somebody in the I.N.C.”
In other words, we were played. How badly? You may not want to know, but you really need to know.
The neocons' hero has all along maintained significant ties with Iraq:
In late 2005, I accompanied Chalabi on a trip to Iran, in part to solve the riddle. We drove eastward out of Baghdad, in a convoy as menacing as the one we had ridden in south to Mushkhab earlier in the year. After three hours of weaving and careering, the plains of eastern Iraq halted, and the terrain turned sharply upward into a thick ridge of arid mountains. We had come to Mehran, on one of history’s great fault lines, the historic border between the Ottoman and Persian Empires. As we crossed into Iran, the wreckage and ruin of modern Iraq gave way to swept streets and a tidy border post with shiny bathrooms. Another world.
An Iranian cleric approached and shook Chalabi’s hand. Then he said something curious: “We are disappointed to hear that you won’t be staying in the Shiite alliance,” he said. “We were really hoping you’d stay.” The border between Iraq and Iran had, for the moment, disappeared.
More curious, though, was the authority that Chalabi seemed to carry in Iran, which, after all, has been accused of assisting Iraqi insurgents and otherwise stirring up chaos there. For starters, Chalabi asked me if I wanted to come along on his Iranian trip only the night before he left — and then procured a visa for me in a single day: a Friday, during the Eid holiday, when the Iranian Embassy was closed. Under ordinary circumstances, an American reporter might wait weeks.
Then there was the executive jet. When we arrived at the border, Chalabi ducked into a bathroom and changed out of his camouflage T-shirt and slacks and into a well-tailored blue suit. Then we drove to Ilam, where an 11-seat Fokker jet was idling on the runway of the local airport. We jumped in and took off for Tehran, flying over a dramatic landscape of canyons and ravines. We landed in Iran’s smoggy capital, and within a couple of hours, Chalabi was meeting with the highest officials of the Iranian government. One of them was Ali Larijani, the national security adviser.
I'm not equiped to judge the full duplicity of Ahmad Chalabi's dealings with the neocons, the U.S. intelligence agencies, the Iranians and the various sides in Iraq's sectarian divisions.
What I can say is that this piece is worth reading for several reasons: First to understand how a U.S. funded exile could play the U.S. so badly. Second to understand how the complexity of the situation in Iraq and the region is beyond the capability of our leaders to describe or even comprehend. Third, to understand out that this man whom the neocons held up as their choice to lead Iraq has in fact significant ties with some powerful people in Iran.


Blogger Catbird said...

The Chalabi story is like a deadly version of Graham Greene's "Our Man in Havana."

4:51 AM, November 06, 2006  
Blogger Tom Noyes said...

Even if a present day Graham Greene does write of the moral bankruptcy of those who pushed us to war, we may in the future have folks who are too sure of their own patriotism and rectitude to pay attention.

5:05 PM, November 06, 2006  

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