Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
February 28, 2004
WAR: Whose Chalabi?
One of the more tangled webs of the pre-war planning and intelligence in Iraq was the US government's controversial relationship with Iraqi opposition leader Ahmed Chalabi. I never knew quite what to make of Chalabi, who was often lionized by the conservative press and vilified by those who preferred to leave Saddam in power. But a report a few weeks ago by StratFor (available by email to subscribers) raises some interesting questions - to wit, whether Chalabi, a Shi'ite, has long had some allegiance or connection to the Iranian mullahs.
The mullahs, of course, have a wide variety of interests in Iraq, some of which have been threatened by our invasion but others of which have been helped; their long-term goal, presumably, would be to see a weak Iraq controlled by an easily manipulable Shi'ite government. While it doesn't necessarily demean Chalabi's usefulness to us if he has - rationally - worked with the mullahs just as he worked with us to obtain his objective of a Saddam-free Iraq, any connection to the Iranian regime should set off alarm bells as to his trustworthiness.
One thing StratFor noted about Chalabi's background is that an Iranian connection could help explain much about the collapse of the bank he ran in Jordan until the late 1980s, which ended with a bank fraud conviction (of dubious validity) being entered against Chalabi in a Jordanian court. If Chalabi's bank was used as a conduit for Iranian funds during the Iran-Iraq War, this would explain why the Jordanians were suddenly interested in shutting it down as soon as the war ended (lest that come to light), as well as why they didn't treat Chalabi as a criminal so much as persona non grata, with the Crown Prince of Jordan personally escorting him out of the country.
A related question I've wondered about is how much of Chalabi's Iranian connections have been known to some of the fiercer opponents of the Iranian regime who have also been big cheerleaders of Chalabi, such as Michael Ledeen (see here and here for examples of Ledeen saying glowing things about Chalabi). I could be wrong, but I thought I had read somewhere that Ledeen's source on his charge that the Iranians were buying uranium in Iraq was a Chalabi contact . . . the plot, as always in that part of the world, is undoubtedly a thick one, and one that may never fully be known.