Dieser Internet-Auftritt kann nach dem Tod des Webmasters, Peter Strutynski
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Die Wahrheit über Ahmed Chalabi / The Truth About Ahmed Chalabi
Warum sich die USA gegen ihren einstigen Lieblingsiraker wenden
Why the US turned against their former golden boy
Dass Ahmed Chalabi (in manchen Quellen auch: Tschalabi) bei der US-Besatzungsmacht in Ungnade gefallen ist, war ein Topereignis der letzten Woche. Chalabi stand immerhin jahrelang auf der Gehaltsliste des Pentagon, er war der "gute" Exiliraker, der nach dem Krieg eine führende Regierungsposition im Irak einnehmen sollte. Auf Chalabi hörte man in London und Washington, als er die Märchen von den irakischen Massenvernichtungswaffen erzählte und davon fabulierte, dass im Falle eines US-Angriffs auf den Irak ein Großteil des Offizierskorps und der Armee zu den Invasoren überlaufen würde und dass die Besatzungstruppen von der Bevölkerung jubelnd empfangen würde.
Am 20. Mai war Chalabis Traum von einer führenden politischen Rolle im neuen Irak jäh geplatzt, als irakische Sicherheitskräfte und US-amerikanische Soldaten seine Wohnung durchsuchten und ihn quasi unter Hausarrest stellten. Triftige offizielle Anschuldigungen gibt es nicht. Voreilige Spekulationen über den Sinneswandel der USA verbieten sich. Man muss tiefer graben, um hinter das Geheimnis des - vorübergehenden? - Sturzes Chalabis zu kommen.
Dazu dokumentieren wir im Folgenden drei Artikel, die hinter die Kulissen eines möglichen Machtkampfes im Irak schauen.
Im ersten Artikel vermutet die Irak-Expertin Karin Leukefeld, dass Chalabi "zwischen die Räder von CIA und Militärgeheimdienst geraten" sein könnte.
Der zweite Beitrag (Autor: Knut Mellenthin) betont vor allem die guten Kontakte Chalabis zu iranischen Politikern und zu jenen Neocons in den USA, die sich als Lobby für einen Umsturz im Iran betätigen.
Im letzten Beitrag - wir dokumentieren ihn in englischer Sprache - behauptet Andrew Cockburn unter Berufung auf gut unterrichtete Kreise, Chalabi habe gar einen Putsch gegen die vom UN-Sonderbeauftragten Brahimi ausgewählte irakische Übergangsregierung geplant.
Der »Ali Baba von Bagdad« enttäuschte seine besten Freunde
Von Karin Leukefeld
»Ich habe Saddam Hussein überlebt und hoffe, auch die Besatzung zu überleben.« – Der das sagt, ist nicht etwa ein Gegner der Besatzer Iraks, sondern galt bisher als ihr wichtigster Gewährsmann – Ahmed Chalabi.
So viel Öffentlichkeit hatte Ahmed Chalabi, der Vorsitzende des Irakischen Nationalkongress (INC) und Mitglied im provisorischen Regierungsrat, schon lange nicht mehr. Journalisten und Fernsehteams rissen sich um ein Interview mit ihm. Grund war die Durchsuchung seiner Residenz und seiner Büros in Bagdad am 20. Mai.
Mit Unterstützung von USA-Soldaten hatten 100 irakische Polizisten sein Anwesen durchsucht. Dabei stießen sie Tische um, verstreuten Papiere und beschädigten einen Bilderrahmen mit dem Foto des lächelnden Chalabi derart, dass das Glas zersprang. Chalabi wusste es pressewirksam zu nutzen: »Durch das Vorgehen der Amerikaner habe ich mir von den Irakern eine Auszeichnung verdient«, sagte der »beste Freund Amerikas in Irak« (Chalabi über Chalabi) vor Journalisten. »Was bisher über meine Beziehungen mit den Amerikanern gesagt wurde, hat sich als falsch erwiesen. Diese Sache zeigt, das ich immer an der Seite des irakischen Volkes gestanden habe.«
Bei den Irakern dürfte dieser Anbiederungsversuch Chalabis indes nicht auf fruchtbaren Boden fallen. Der »Ali Baba von Bagdad«, wie er im irakischen Volksmund genannt wird, gilt als US-amerikanischer Handlanger schlechthin.
Geboren wurde Ahmed Chalabi 1945 in Bagdad, in einer der reichsten Familien im Irak. 1956 (andere Quellen besagen 1958) verließ er Irak und lebte seitdem in Großbritannien und den USA. 1977 gründete er im jordanischen Amman die Petra Bank, die 1989 Bankrott machte. Chalabi wurde angeklagt, 60 Millionen Dollar unterschlagen zu haben, und 1992 zu 22 Jahren Haft verurteilt – in Abwesenheit.
Im gleichen Jahr gründete er mit finanzieller Unterstützung der USA-Regierung den Irakischen Nationalkongress (INC), in dem rund 30 irakische Exilorganisationen versammelt waren. 1994 bereitete der INC einen Umsturzversuch gegen Saddam Hussein vor, Ausgangsbasis war das nordirakische Kurdengebiet. 1996 mussten mehr als 3000 der eingebundenen Helfer die Region fluchtartig verlassen, als irakische Truppen in Erbil einmarschierten und die geheime Operationsbasis des INC zerstörten.
Mitte April 2003 unter dem Schutz der Besatzungstruppen nach Irak zurückgekehrt, gilt Ahmed Chalabi als Mann des Militärischen Geheimdienstes der USA, der für die Folterungen an irakischen Gefangenen mitverantwortlich gemacht wird. Seit 2002 hatte das Pentagon Chalabi mit 27 Millionen US-Dollar unterstützt, davon flossen monatlich 330000 Dollar in geheimdienstliche Aktivitäten. Der USA-Kongress segnete die Zahlungen ab. Chalabis Geheimdienstchef Arras Habib baute ein weites Netz von Spionen in und um Irak herum auf. Inzwischen ist aber auch den Auftraggebern klar geworden, dass ein Großteil der gelieferten Informationen – nicht nur über Saddam Husseins Waffenprogramme – erfunden waren. Kürzlich wurde bekannt, dass die monatlichen Zahlungen vom Pentagon Ende Juni eingestellt werden sollen.
Unklar ist bisher, wer und was die rabiate Durchsuchung des Chalabi-Hauses tatsächlich ausgelöst hat. Offiziell wurden Beweise dafür gesucht, dass eine Firma des Hausherrn, die mit der Vernichtung der alten Irakischen Dinare beauftragt war, eingesammeltes Geld wieder in Umlauf gebracht hat, um doppelt abzukassieren. Auch Vorwürfe der Spionage für Iran wurden laut. Denkbar ist, dass Chalabis Geheimdienstmann seinen US-amerikanischen Auftraggebern Akten des alten Regimes vorenthält, die für Washington unangenehme Tatsachen enthalten. Bei der UNO wartet man ebenfalls auf Akten, die Informationen über angebliche Betrügereien im Rahmen des Programms »Öl für Nahrungsmittel« enthalten sollen.
Mit politischen Problemen in Irak hat das alles wenig zu tun, auch wenn der Wendehals Chalabi das jetzt so darstellt. Wahrscheinlicher ist, dass der Mann zwischen die Räder von CIA und Militärgeheimdienst geraten ist. Nun beschuldigt er CIA-Chef George Tenet, hinter den Angriffen zu stehen, und sucht Gerechtigkeit bei seinen Auftraggebern. »Der USA-Kongress soll ein Hearing machen«, schlug er vor. Das sei der richtige Ort, um festzustellen, ob Tenet Recht habe oder er.
Jedenfalls bleibt Chalabi einer der unbeliebtesten Politiker Iraks. Vehement hatte er auf die Auflösung der Armee und die Entlassung ehemaliger Mitglieder der Baath-Partei aus allen Ämtern und Behörden gedrängt, wodurch Hunderttausende Iraker arbeitslos wurden.
Aus: Neues Deutschland, 25. Mai 2004
Rätsel um Chalabi-Kontakte
Von Knut Mellenthin
Hat der vom US-Verteidigungsministerium und den neokonservativen Kriegstreibern seit Jahren favorisierte Chef des »Irakischen Nationalkongresses« (INC), Ahmed Chalabi, geheime Informationen an den Iran weitergegeben, die die »amerikanische Sicherheit« und das Leben von US-Soldaten gefährden könnten? Dieser Vorwurf scheint zentraler Hintergrund der Durchsuchung der Wohnung Chalabis und des INC-Hauptquartiers am Donnerstag vergangener Woche gewesen zu sein.
Die Frage, die sich mit diesem Verdacht sofort verbindet: Von wem könnte Chalabi solche brisanten Informationen erhalten haben? Informationen, die – wie es in der neuen Ausgabe des Nachrichtenmagazins Time heißt – »nur wenigen innerhalb der US-Regierung bekannt waren«? Laut Time hat das FBI eine aufwendige Untersuchung eingeleitet, um festzustellen, ob amerikanische Beamte illegal Staatsgeheimnisse an den INC weitergegeben haben. Die Ermittlungen könnten zu hochrangigen Beamten im Pentagon und im militärischen Geheimdienst DIA führen, vermutet das Magazin.
Der Vorwurf, ein Langzeitagent der Teheraner Regierung gewesen zu sein, richtet sich inzwischen inoffiziell offenbar auch gegen Chalabi selbst. Er betrifft aber in erster Linie den Chef des INC-«Sicherheitsdienstes«, Aras Habib, gegen den Haftbefehl erlassen wurde und der sich jetzt in Teheran aufhalten soll. Habibs undurchsichtige Organisation, von einigen Kreisen in Washington als Kern eines künftigen US-hörigen irakischen Geheimdienstes konzipiert, wird seit Herbst 2002 vom Pentagon mit monatlich 340 000 Dollar finanziert für etwas, was sich »Programm zur Informationssammlung« (ICP) nennt. Gestützt auf diese Subventionen, hat Habib einen Apparat aufgebaut, in den gegen gute Bezahlung auch Fachleute aus den beiden großen kurdischen Parteien KDP und PUK sowie aus der größten schiitischen Organisation, SCIRI, integriert werden konnten. Neben Spitzeldiensten soll das ICP, wie die Nachrichtenagentur UPI am 3.März meldete, in großem Umfang an Verhören irakischer Gefangener und deren Auswertung beteiligt sein. Das ICP arbeitete eng mit der Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) zusammen, die auch für die Militärgefängnisse verantwortlich ist.
Erst Anfang Mai gab das Pentagon bekannt, daß die Finanzierung des ICP am 30. Juni eingestellt werden soll. Das war bereits als Signal gewertet worden, daß sich Chalabis Gegner in Washington – das Außenministerium und die CIA – gegen das Pentagon durchgesetzt haben könnten.
Daß Chalabi ausgezeichnete Kontakte zu iranischen Politikern unterhält, ist allgemein bekannt. Man muß davon ausgehen, daß er diese Kontakte bisher, ebenso wie seine Verbindungen zu schiitischen Politikern und Geistlichen des Irak, mit Wissen und im Auftrag seiner amerikanischen Partner gepflegt hat. Es ist in diesem Zusammenhang ein auffälliges Signal, daß Chalabis langjährige Gönner unter den Neokonservativen ihn angesichts der Vorwürfe uneingeschränkt in Schutz nehmen. Darunter mehrere, die in der »Coalition for Democracy« in Iran engagiert sind – einer Lobby für massive amerikanische Unterstützung eines Umsturzes im Iran, die mit dem Sohn des 1979 gestürzten Schahs zusammenarbeitet. Dies läßt darauf schließen, daß Chalabis Teheran-Kontakte in diesem Kontext zu sehen sein könnten: in einem Gewirr geheimdienstlicher Interessen und konkurrierender Seilschaften in der US-Regierung.
Aus: junge Welt, 25. Mai 2004
The Truth About Ahmed Chalabi
Why the US turned against their former golden boy -- He was Preparing a
Coup! What He Did as a Catspaw for Tehran: How He Nearly Bankrupted Jordan;
the Billions He Stands to Make Out of the New Iraq
By ANDREW COCKBURN
In dawn raids today, American troops surrounded Ahmed Chalabi's
headquarters and home in Baghdad, put a gun to his head, arrested two of
his aides, and seized documents. Only five months ago, Chalabi was a guest
of honor sitting right behind Laura Bush at the State of the Union. What
brought about this astonishing fall from grace of the man who helped
provide the faked intelligence that justified last year's war?
The answer lies in Chalabi's reaction to his gradual loss of US support in
recent months and the realisation that he will be excluded from the post
June 30 Iraqi "government" being crafted by UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.
Lashing out against his exclusion from power, he has in effect been laying
the groundwork for a coup, assembling a Shia political coalition with the
express aim of destabilising the "Brahimi" government even before it takes
office. "He has been mobilising forces to make sure the UN initiative
fails," one well connected Iraqi political observer, who knows Chalabi
well, told me today. "Hehas been tellling these people that Brahimi is part
of a Sunni conspiracy against the Shia."
This scheme is by no means wholly outlandish. Chalabi has recruited
significant Shia support, including Ayatollah Mohammed Bahr al Uloom, a
leading member of the Governing Council and two other lesser known Council
members. Significantly, his support also includes a faction of the Dawa
Party that has been excluded from the political process by the occupation
authority and which also supports rebel cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Other
recently recruited allies include Iraqi Hezbollah. All are joined in a
Chalabi dominated Supreme Shia Council, similar to a sectarian Lebanese
model. "Sooner rather than later," the Iraqi observer, a close student of
Shia politics, points out, "Moqtada al Sadr is going to be killed. That
willl leave tens, hundreds of thousands of his supporters looking for a new
leader. If Ahmed plays the role of victim, he can take on that role. His
dream has always been to be a sectarian Shia leader."
Given the imminence of the announcement of the post June 30 arrrangement,
the stakes are very high for the US. The occupation command in Baghdad well
understands that Chalabi has the resources and skills to wreck the
all-important arrangements for the official handover of power. "People
realise that Ahmed is a gambler, prepared to bring it all down," I was told
today, "and this raid may not be at all to his detriment."
US disenchantment with the man who has received $27 million of taxpeyers'
money in recent years has been gathering pace in recent months. "You can
piss on Chalabi" President Bush remarked to Jordan's King Abdullah some
months ago. "Ahmed is on good terms with many people," a senior Iraqi
politician told me waspishly, "and on bad terms with a great many more."
Meanwhile the star of the octogenarian politician Adnan Pachachi, foreign
minister forty years ago in the revolutionary government of General Abdul
Karim Qassim, and now a hot tip for post June 30 president, is rising fast.
Chalabi despises Pachachi as a tiresome old codger with no place in today's
Iraq. "He should go home and play bridge," he snaps at mention of the
rival's name. Pachachi indulgently dismisses Chalabi as "articulate, but
not wise -- I've told him to his face, 'Ahmed, you're too clever by half.'"
Distrust him as they may however, Iraqis suspect that Chalabi will be a
looming presence in Iraq for years to come. Since he returned to Baghdad
just over a year ago he has succeeded in building a financial powerbase
both in business and key sectors of the fledgling Iraqi administration. His
prescient seizure of Saddam's intelligence files a year ago has equipped
him with a useful tool to intimidate opponents. In politics, despite his
apparent lack of general appeal, he has been carving out a role as the Ian
Paisley of the Iraqi Shia, fomenting sectarian assertiveness and brokering
deals. At the same time, he has maintained his foreign alliances, not
merely with the neo-conservatives in the Pentagon and right wing Washington
think tanks, who are still insisting that he should have been installed in
power in Baghdad by the US a year ago, but also in Tehran. Chalabi's
connections to the most hardline elements in Iran, particularly the
intelligence officers of the Revolutionary Guards, are longstanding and
still flourish today.
Chalabi's fusion of business and politics is very much in the family
tradition. Until the 1958 military coup swept away the monarchy that had
ruled Iraq under British direction since the 1920s, the Chalabis were
probably the richest family in the country. The founder of the family
fortunes, Ahmed's great grandfather, had been the tax "farmer" (ie he
collected taxes at a profit) of Kadimiah, a town near Baghdad. The Iraqi
historian Hanna Batatu describes him as "a very harsh man, (who) kept a
bodyguard of armed slaves and had a special prison at his disposal. When he
died the people of Kadimiah heaved a sigh of relief." His son flourished in
the good graces of the British, while the next in line, Ahmed's father,
prospered by bailing out the racing debts of a powerful member of the royal
family, earning high political office thereby, and leveraging that position
into lucrative business arrangements. Ahmed's uncle meanwhile rose to be
the most powerful banker in the country. As Batatu notes: "..by translating
economic power into political influence, and political influence into
economic power, the Chalabis climbed from one level of wealth to another."
However, when the 1958 revolution swept their Iraqi wealth away, the
Chalabis quickly put down roots in Lebanon. Ahmed and his brothers married
into powerful families in the Lebanese shia community. "They become so
Lebanese that they started pronouncing their name Shalabi instead of
Chalabi," remarks another former Iraqi exile. "Lebanese don't pronounce a
hard Ch sound." Initially, Chalabi himself seemed destined for an academic
career. No one has ever denied he is extremely smart, as well as
intellectually competitive. "When he was at primary school," recalls one of
his innumerable cousins, "if he got nine marks in a test and someone else
got ten, he would tear up the papers and run around in a tantrum."
By 1970 he had graduated from MIT, collected a PhD in mathematics from the
University of Chicago and returned to teach at the renowned American
University of Beirut, where he attracted attention as "a walking
encyclopedia." In 1977 he moved to Jordan and founded the Petra Bank. A
decade later, Petra had grown to be the second largest bank in the country,
with links to other Chalabi family banks and investment companies in
Beirut, Geneva and Washington. The bank introduced Visa cards to Jordan,
along with ATMs and other innovative technology. Ahmed himself was one of
the most influential businessmen in the country, esteemed by local
entrepreneurs for his readiness to issue credit, and enjoying close links
to powerful members of the royal family. As long as no outsider got to look
at the books, everything was fine.
On August 2, 1989, however the Jordanian banking authorities took over
Petra on the grounds that when all Jordanian banks were told to deposit 30%
of their foreign exchange with the central bank, Petra had failed to come
up with the money. Ahmed left the country two weeks later, announcing that
he was going "on holiday", although rumors persist in the middle east that
he had crossed the Syrian border in the trunk of his friend Tamara
Daghistani's car. Meanwhile his brothers' banks in Geneva and Beirut had
already gone under.
In April, 1992, Chalabi was tried in his absence (along with 47
associates), found guilty, and sentenced to 22 years jail on 31 charges of
embezzlement, theft, misuse of depositor funds and currency speculation.
However, because the trial had been in front of a military court under
Jordan's martial law, international law prevented his extradition.
For anyone who asks, Chalabi has always had a ready explanation for Petra's
collapse, one that his daughter Tamara was still loyally repeating in the
Wall Street Journal as recently as last August: "Petra Bank was seized and
destroyed by those in the Jordanian establishment who'd become willing to
do Saddam Hussein's bidding. That Jordan has branded my father as an 'asset
diverter' would be comic, were it not for what it says about that kingdom's
servile complicity with Saddam." Saddam, according to this version, got his
Jordanian lackeys to move against Petra because Ahmed Chalabi posed a
threat to the Iraqi leader. The bank was basically in fine shape and would
have survived if the government hadn't intervened and panicked bank
customers. The prosecution, conviction and sentencing of Ahmed Chalabi was
an act of political spite.
Chalabi's claim that he was framed reduces Jordanian officials to choleric
fury. "The collapse was due to Chalabi's mismanagement of the bank and the
misuse of its assets," responded one senior banking official, when I
relayed Chalabi's excuse of injured innocence. "He ran it as his private
There may be a particle of truth in this -- the prime minister at the time
of the takeover was known for his deep and profitable relationship with
Saddam, and Chalabi was indeed a critic of the Iraqi dictator -- but it is
also beside the point. Behind all the bluster--"Petra was solvent and
growing," he insisted in an e-mail to me--the numbers laid out in the
(pre-Enron) Arthur Andersen "Petra Bank balance sheet--August 2 1989" speak
for themselves, as do other reports, mostly in Arabic and rarely examined
by outsiders, from liquidators and other investigators.
The Arthur Andersen audit was commissioned after the Jordanian central
bank, ignorant of the real and disastrous situation inside Petra, accepted
full responsibility for the bank's debts and deposits. The accountants'
confidential report, delivered in January 1990 and as thick as a phone
directory, showed that Petra was rotten to the core in large part because
of "transactions with parties related to the former management of the Bank
(ie the Lebanese and Swiss banks managed by Chalabi's brothers, which had
already gone broke.) Overall, instead of the $40 million or so net balance
depicted in Chalabi's version of the books, Petra had a deficit of over
$215 million, which the accountants indicated had "the potential" to grow
to $350 million.
This was a total catastrophe for the cash-strapped desert kingdom,
especially as the government had committed itself to paying off the
depositors. "For two years, all the aid we got from Saudi Arabia and other
arab countries," recalls a former Jordanian diplomat, "went into settling
the Petra mess." Despite this, Chalabi actually boasted to me in a recent
email that "after the takeover, all depositors were paid in full," a
statement of amazing chutzpah, given that he skipped town and left others
to clean up the mess and pay the bills. A seventeen page summary of the
investigation by the military prosecutor's office, dated April 30 1990,
lists various "fictitious accounts", ie money that Petra claimed to have in
accounts with other banks that did not in fact exist. These included the $7
million allegedly held on December 31, 1988, in Bankers Trust, New York, or
the $21 million that was supposed to be in Wardley Ltd, but wasn't, or the
19,196,404 Deutschmarks that was supposed to be deposited with Socofi, the
Chalabi bank in Geneva. Overall, at that date, the "fictitious" figure came
to $72 million and counting. Elsewhere, money had been diverted to private
Chalabi accounts, or had evaporated in bad loans to other Chalabi- owned
companies, such as the $15 million that disappeared with the Rimal company,
or the roughly $14 million that had been spent on "personal expenses" for
Dr. Chalabi and various members of his family.
Among the non-performing loans of the Petra subsidiary in Washington was
$12 million owed by Abdul Huda Farouki. He had pledged his $1,7 million
house in Maclean, Virginia as security, but as liquidators moved to seize
it, he produced a letter from his friend Ahmed claiming that Petra had
released him from that obligation before the crash.
In September 2000, just over eight years after Ahmed Chalabi's conviction
in Jordan, his brothers Jawad and Hazem were convicted and sentenced (in
absentia) by a Geneva court for creating fake documents. The statute of
limitations had run out on other charges.
"Ahmed thought he would never be tried and convicted," one former associate
recalls. "I remember him saying 'they don't dare sentence me, I've got
members of the royal family on the payroll.'"
"The simple fact is that the bank was insolvent when we took it over"
insists former Central Bank governor Dr. Said Nabulsi. "I can't see why so
many people can't understand that." They look at the figures and then go
away and write things like this." Gloomily, he dipped into a pile of
clippings on his desk and held up a recent full page article in the
Financial Times headlined "Man with a Mission" extolling Chalabi's current
activities in Baghdad. Tossing it aside, he rifled through further tributes
to Chalabi, who still has a jail cell awaiting him in Jordan.
Jordanian investigators, aided by sleuths from the Kroll detective agency,
looked long and hard for where all the money had gone -- one estimate puts
the total losses of the Chalabi family empire at nearly $1.5 billion. "We
followed some of the cash as far as the British Virgin Islands" says one,
lamenting that the ironclad bank secrecy laws prevented them following the
trail any further.
Chalabi took partial revenge on his Jordanian tormentors by fomenting a
December 1991 "60 Minutes" story accusing King Hussein of colluding with
Saddam, but by now he was immersed in politics carving out a leading role
in the anti-Saddam Iraqi opposition. "Ahmed once said to me 'I built up an
empire of 44 companies around the world with my brain,'" recalls an
associate from that period. "He said 'that was very difficult. Politics is
very easy.' He believes that politics is about money, that politics is a
Shaking the dust of Amman from his heels, Chalabi soon scented new
opportunities in Washington. "The United States is prepared to allocate
substantial sums for the Iraqi opposition," he confided to an opposition
activist soon after the 1991 war. "We should go for that money." Before
long, he had secured CIA funding for a new opposition group: the Iraqi
National Congress (INC) The INC was in theory an umbrella organisation with
a collective leadership,but Chalabi, those who have worked with him agree,
is not a team player. "He always has to be in charge," one powerful Iraqi
politician told me in Baghdad. " I remember a meeting in London where Hani
Fekaki (one of the founders of the Baath party who later fled into exile
and opposition) told Chalabi: "Ahmed, in your heart, there is a little Saddam."
The spooks found much to like in the dynamic ex-banker. They liked his
talents as an organiser, and they especially liked the fact that he had no
power base inside or outside Iraq. Hence, as Frank Anderson, then head of
the CIA's operations directorate's near east division, once told me ,
Chalabi "was not a threat to anybody. He was acceptable as an office
manager. So his weakness was a benefit."
Another benefit was his money. One former covert operator happily recalled
the inaugural meeting of the Iraqi National Congress in Vienna, Austria in
June 1992, which was wholly, if secretly, funded by the CIA: "There wasn't
a single person there who didn't believe he was paying for it all out of
money he had embezzled from the Petra Bank!" (I asked one investigator who
had spent years probing the Petra wreckage if anyone from the US government
had ever queried him on the true facts of the fraud. "No", not once," he
answered, adding that journalists had also steered clear of the ugly truths
about Chalabi's banking career.)
"He doesn't want colleagues, only employees," says one former INC associate
sadly. "And he prefers to bring in outsiders who can't work independently
of him." As example, this Iraqi opposition veteran cites INC official Zaab
Sethna, an American of Pakistani origin, and Francis Brooke, Chalabi's
Washington lobbyist. During last year's war, Brooke, a fundamentalist
Christian, told Harper's Magazine that he would support the elimination of
Saddam, "the human Satan," even if every single Iraqi were killed in the
Other key aides who have stuck by him over the years include Nabil Mousawi,
a former Leeds pizzeria manager who first attracted Chalabi's notice when
he volunteered to work the copy machine at the INC's inaugural meeting.
Entifadh Qamber, now the INC spokesman in Baghdad, has been similarly
loyal. Known for his verbal and physical aggressiveness, Qamber once
punched out an elderly Iraqi critic live on television.
Aras Karem, a Shi'ite Kurd who has supervised Chalabi's security and
military operations since 1992, is probably the most formidable member of
this inner circle,. Once pegged by the CIA as an Iranian agent (the agency
consequently had several of his relatives jailed without charge for years
in the US) Aras played a major role in managing the production of useful
defectors in pre-war days, and still today supervises the INC's
"Intelligence Collection Program." His direct contacts with U.S. defense
intelligence make him perhaps the only member of Chalabi's coterie to have
any kind of an independent base.
It took a few years for the CIA high command at Langley to grasp the fact
that their "office manager" was not so easy to control. Funded by the
agency, Chalabi ensconced himself in the segment of northern Iraq that was
controlled by the Kurds, together with a small staff and recruited an armed
militia. In March 1995 he concocted an elaborate scheme to bribe tribal
leaders in and around the northern city of Mosul into rebelling against
Saddam. "That's the way Lebanese politics works--through bribery and
corruption," says Bob Baer, who, as CIA station chief in northern Iraq at
the time, supported the plan. "People forget that Ahmed's really a
Levantine, he learned business and politics in Beirut."
In the event, the plan fizzled. The tribal leaders pocketed Chalabi's money
and stayed home. His friends in Iranian intelligence, whom he was hosting
in Kurdistan, had promised a simultaneous offensive in southern Iraq, but
they stayed home too. A military offensive by Chalabi's small militia and
some Kurdish allies petered out after a couple of days.
Back in Washington, the CIA was furious that Chalabi had acted without
orders, and spitefully leaked the news that he was on their payroll,
causing a furor in northern Iraq. The following year, a quarrel between the
two main Kurdish parties led to an appeal by one side to Saddam for help.
As Iraqi forces entered the Kurdish city of Irbil, they hunted down and
massacred INC supporters who had been left in the city. Those who managed
to escape were eventually brought to the US.
Discarded by his old patrons at the agency, Chalabi found new allies among
the right wing neo-conservatives, for whom the destruction of Saddam and
the co-option of Iraq in a reordered Middle East emerged as a major
objective in the mid-1990s. "Of course they liked him," says yet another of
long list of veterans of the Iraqi opposition who now, in Baghdad,
nervously entreat interviewers not to quote them by name. "He is the
quintessential anti-Arab, anti-anything that the Arab world believes in."
Chalabi's willingness, unique among Arab politicians, to seek Israeli
support -- further bolstered his position on Capitol Hill.
Lately, Chalabi watchers have been interested to note familiar faces from
the Petra era popping up in Baghdad in the wake of Ahmed's return in the
wake of the American tanks a year ago. Ali Saraf, for example, formerly
head of the foreign exchange department is working with Chalabi, and there
are rumors that Taj Hajjar, former proprietor of a Malaysian shrimp farm
(Jordanian banking investigators sigh nostalgically at mention of the
shrimp farm, into which so much Petra money vanished) has been in town.
One frequent visitor from Washington has been Chalabi's old friend Abdul
Huda Farouki, who owed Petra $12 million at the time of the collapse.
Last year Farouki's newly founded security firm Erinys won a plum $80
million contract to guard Iraqi oil installations, employing members of
Chalabi's private militia for the purpose, as well as the son of a close
Chalabi confidante as chief executive and his nephew Salem Chalabi as
firm's counsel. Erinys' sister concern Nour USA meanwhile garnered $327
million deal to equip the new Iraqi army, (at least one Kuwaiti businessman
anxious to get an army contract was told by an American official at the CPA
that he would have to go through Ahmed Chalabi) but outraged protests from
the losing bidders, coupled with the odor of the Chalabi connection,
eventually forced cancellation of the deal.
Loss of the Nour contract may be an embarrassment, but the sums at stake in
that enterprise are dwarfed by the rewards to be reaped by anyone with the
right connections from Iraq's $16 billlion annual oil exports. It is an
area in which Chalabi has not been idle. Last November, for example, he
demonstrated his influence and connections by orchestrating the removal of
Mohammed Jibouri, executive director of the state oil marketing agency
(SOMO), a key position that controls Iraq's oil sales. Jibouri's offense
had been to inform the giant oil trading firm Glencore that it could not
trade Iraqi oil due to its behavior while trading oil with the former
regime. Within days, the official had been placed on an enforced year's
leave of absence and ordered to vacate both his office and his apartment in
the oil ministry complex.
"Chalabi was absolutely responsible for getting rid of Jibouri," says a
well connected oil trader. "Now Nabil (Mousawi, Chalabi's proxy on the
Governing Council) travels with the minister to Opec conferences and is
trying to make oil deals."
"I asked Ibrahim Bahr Uloom (the oil minister) why he was taking Mousawi to
Opec," says an old friend of Uloom. "He said, 'Ahmed forced me.'" Several
well placed oil industry sources have confirmed to me that Mousawi has
approached at least two international oil companies with offers to
represent them in Iraq (the offers were rebuffed) and has himself been
trading Iraqi oil.
"Believe me, no," said Mousawi when I asked him about these offers.
"Not that I would not do it if I was not connected to the Governing Council
(but) it's quite difficult to carry on both sides...There'll be a lot of
money to be made (in Iraq) for many years to come." He also denied that he
has been trading oil, and insisted that Jibouri was dismissed after an
investigation by the finance committee of the Iraqi Governing Council
(Chairman: A. Chalabi) for giving contracts to firms who had flouted
sanctions, rather than the other way round. Chalabi on the other hand
denied to me that the Governing Council, let alone he himself, had anything
to do with the matter.
Chalabi also told me flatly that he is not presently engaged in any private
business dealings in Iraq. Many in the region have a different impression,
including oil traders using unofficial ports that have sprung up down the
Shatt al-Arab from Basra.
Oil minister Ibrahim Bahr Uloom is considered a close ally of Chalabi's,
but he is only one of a number of key officials widely regarded by Iraqis
to be in the INC chief's pocket. Finance minister Kamil Gailani, formerly a
waiter in the Sinjan restaurant in downtown Amman, is viewed as another
Chalabi acolyte, as is the head of the central bank and the bosses of the
two leading commercial banks. Nephew Salem Chalabi, who has nworked closely
with free market fundamentalist fanatics from the CPA on framing crucial
occupation edicts, is now overseeing preparations for the trial of Saddam
These connections, together with Chalabi's own chairmanship of the
Governing Council's finance committee, facilitate such maneuvers as
Gailani's current efforts to recruit a western law firm to advise on
renegotiating Iraq's overseas debt. British and American lawyers mulling a
bid for the contract are in no doubt that it is Chalabi who will be
supervising the renegotiation, nor are they unaware of the moneymaking
potential of the process. Some officials in Washington are no less
perturbed by his efforts to get what one calls "his grubby little hands" on
pools of cash secretly stashed abroad by Saddam Hussein. "That money
belongs to the Iraqi people," says the official, "not Ahmed Chalabi.
(Chalabi is alsorecruiting law firms to investigate the UN oil-for -food
scandal, which, like Saddam's intelligence files, should provide him with a
trove of useful information.)
This is not the first time that Chalabi's sources of finance have attracted
attention in Washington. In 2002, US State Department auditors probing what
had happened to a US subsidy of Chalabi's INC queried the lack of
accounting for the large sums spent on an "Intelligence Collection
Program." Chalabi refused a more precise accounting on the grounds that his
agents' lives were at stake. But according to one former Chalabi associate,
at least some of the intelligence money had actually been spent in Iran,
which would have been a good reason for keeping the accounts a little
fuzzy. This former associate recalls, that, in the late '90s, "Ahmed opened
an INC office in Tehran, spending the Americans' money, and he joked to me
that 'the Americans are breaching their embargo on Iran.'"
At the time, Chalabi let it be known just who his friends were in Tehran.
"When I met him in December 1997 he said he had tremendous connections with
Iranian intelligence," recalls Scott Ritter, the former high profile UN
weapons inspector. "He said that some of his best intelligence came from
the Iranians and offered to set up a meeting for me with the head of
Had Ritter made the trip (the CIA refused him permission), he would have
been dealing with Chalabi's chums in Iranian Revolutionary Guard
intelligence, a faction which regarded Saddam Hussein with a venomous
hatred spawned both by the bloody war of the 1980s and the Iraqi dictator's
continuing support of the terrorist Mojaheddin Khalq group. They had a
clear interest in fomenting American paranoia about Saddam, which makes
them the most likely authors of at least one carefully crafted piece of
forged intelligence regarding Saddam's nuclear program -- an operation in
which a Chalabi-sponsored defector played a central role.
Early in 1995, an "Action Team" of inspectors from the International Atomic
Energy Agency descended on the offices of the Iraqi nuclear program in
Baghdad. They had with them a 20 page document that apparently originated
from inside "Group 4," the department that had been responsible for
designing the Iraqi bomb. The stationary, page numbering, and stamps all
appeared authentic, according to one senior member of the Iraqi bomb team.
"It was a 'progress report,'" he recalls, "about 20 pages, on the work in
Group 4 departments on the results of their continued work after 1991. It
referred to results of experiments on the casting of the hemispheres (ie
the bomb core of enriched uranium) with some crude diagrams." As evidence
that Iraq was successfullypursuing a nuclear bomb in defiance of sanctions
and the inspectors, it was damning.
The document was almost faultless, but not quite. The scientists noticed
that some of the technical descriptions used terms that would only be used
by an Iranian. "Most notable," says one scientist, "was the use of the term
'dome'--'Qubba' in Iranian, instead of 'hemisphere'--'Nisuf Kura' in
Arabic." In other words, the document had to have been originally written
in Farsi by an Iranian scientist and then translated into Arabic.
Tom Killeen, of the Iraq Nuclear Verification Office at IAEA headquarters
in Vienna, confirms this account of the incident. "After a thorough
investigation the documents were determined not to be authentic and the
matter was closed."
Asked how the IAEA obtained the document in the first place, Killeen
replied "Khidir Hamza." Hamza was the former member of the Iraqi weapons
team who briefly headed the bomb design group before being relegated to a
sinecure posting (his effectiveness as a nuclear engineer was limited by
his pathological fear of radioactivity and consequent refusal to enter any
building where experiments were underway.) In 1994 he made his way to Ahmed
Chalabi's headquarters in Iraqi Kurdistan, and eventually arrived in
Washington. where he carved out a career based on an imaginative claim to
have been "Saddam's Bombmaker."
As late as the summer of 2002 Hamza was being escorted by Chalabi's
Washington representative Francis Brooke to the Pentagon to brief Deputy
Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz on details of Saddam's allegedly
burgeoning nuclear weapons program. There is no indication that he himself
ever visited Iran. Asked by e-mail whether he had been receiving
intelligence from the Iranians, Chalabi, despite his 1997 assertion to
Scott Ritter, rejects the charge as "an absolute falsehood." Judging by his
frequent visits to Iran, and the warm manner in which his underlings
discuss the ayatollahs' regime, Chalabi links with Tehran are still strong.
No less important are his ties with the neocon gang in Washington, who
still maintain that the big mistake of the occupation was not putting Ahmed
in charge right away, Simultaneously, his championship of Shi'ite groups in
Iraq becomes ever more assertive -- his newspaper has recently been
campaigning against Adnan Pachachi for allegedly excluding Moqtada al-Sadr
from the Governing Council!
One well connected Iraqi told me recently, "he will play the Shia extremist
card for all it is worth. He's quite prepared to break Iraq apart if it
serves his purpose. He's really dangerous now."
* Andrew Cockburn is the co-author of Out of the Ashes: the Resurrection of
Saddam Hussein and a contributor to CounterPunch's hot new history of the
last three US military operations, Imperial Crusades. He wishes to
acknowledge the generous support of the Graydon Carter Foundation in the
preparation of this article.
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