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Wednesday, July 30, 2003

The Name's Chalabi...Ahmed Chalabi

I’ve been meaning to write once again about our good friend in Iraq, Ahmed Chalabi. He is such an interesting fellow and continues to be the favorite talking head of the “New Iraq” on cable television. It seems as if hardly a day goes by that I don’t see him speaking on behalf of Iraqis everywhere.

Slate’s Jack Shafer, who has nailed the intrepid embed Judith Miller to the proverbial wall, reports in this and other articles how reliant Ms Miller was on the ever so helpful Ahmed when she wrote her breathless accounts of the vast arsenal of unconventional weapons everyone knew for a fact were in Iraq. But then, Chalabi has been helpful with the vaunted “strong, solid” Iraqi intelligence for years.

According to the Association of Former Intelligence Officers’ May Report:

With Iraq conquered and Saddam Hussein's regime deposed, U.S. and Iraqi sources have now provided an account of the unsuccessful strategy of deposing Saddam by a coup d'etat during the 1990's, an effort reportedly known within CIA by the cryptonum "DBACHILLES" . The failed coup efforts carry some important lessons. They show that Iraqi intelligence penetrated the Iraqi exile-based operations. And they illustrate the damage caused by a long-running feud between Iraqi exile groups and their patrons in Washington. A media-based report follows.


Complicating the CIA's coup planning was a similar effort in northern Iraq by Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress. A CIA officer named Bob Baer was dispatched in January 1995 to coordinate the various covert efforts, but they only got more tangled. Chalabi launched his coup attempt in March 1995, but it was unsuccessful and Baer was summoned home to Washington. Chalabi was convinced that the military-coup plan had been compromised and traveled to Washington in March 1996 to see the new CIA director, John Deutch, and his deputy, George Tenet. He told them the Iraqis had captured an Egyptian courier who was carrying an Inmarsat satellite phone to Shawani's sons in Baghdad.

When the CIA officials seemed unconvinced, for their own good reasons, Chalabi then went to his friend Richard Perle, a prominent neoconservative. Perle is said to have called Tenet and urged that an outside committee review the Iraq situation. But the coup planning went ahead. DBACHILLES succeeded in reaching a number of senior Iraqi military officers, but was compromised and collapsed in a blood bath in June 1996.

The Iraqis began arresting the coup plotters on June 26. At least 200 officers were seized and more than 80 were executed, including Shawani's sons. Top CIA officials reportedly blamed Chalabi for exposing the plot, and the recrimination has persisted ever since.

As a follow-on to the coup plotting, in the run-up to, and during the invasion, both Alawi and Shawani played important roles in the US/UK effort to encourage Iraqi officers to surrender or defect. It did not quite work out that way. The Iraqi military did not defect or surrender, they just went home. (Jonkers) (Wash Post, 16 May 2003, page A29 //David Ignatius)

Interesting, but ancient history, right?

Fast forward to The Saq of Iraq, April 27, 2003.


Iraqi opposition leader Ahmad Chalabi said Sunday that he has "specific information" about links between the terror group al-Qaeda and the Iraqi intelligence service Mukhabarat.

"We have specific information about visits that leaders of al-Qaeda made to Iraq in as late as 2000, and the requests for large amounts of cash," Chalabi said.

Chalabi, who heads up the US-backed Iraqi National Congress (INC), an organization that opposed Saddam Hussein's ousted regime, added that he could not elaborate "because we want to chase down specifically the information so there will be an actionable case for international authorities -- specifically the United States."

Chalabi's comments came in response to a question about a report in Britain's Sunday Telegraph newspaper that secret Iraqi intelligence documents found in Baghdad have provided the first evidence of a direct link between Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network and Saddam Hussein's regime.


But, lo and behold:

Iraqi "intelligence documents" likely planted. April 29, 2003


The problem with these documents is that they are being provided by the U.S. military to a few reporters working for a very suspect newspaper, London's Daily Telegraph (affectionately known as the Daily Torygraph" by those who understand the paper's right-wing slant). The Telegraph's April 27 Sunday edition reported that its correspondent in Baghdad, Inigo Gilmore, had been invited into the intelligence headquarters by U.S. troops and miraculously "found" amid the rubble a document indicating that Iraq invited Osama bin Laden to visit Iraq in March 1998.

Gilmore also reported that the CIA had been through the building several times before he found the document. Gilmore added that the CIA must have "missed" the document in their prior searches, an astounding claim since the CIA must have been intimately familiar with the building from their previous intelligence links with the Mukhabarat dating from the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. Moreover, the CIA and other intelligence agencies, including Britain's MI-6, have refuted claims of a link between bin Laden and Iraq.

And, what a coincidence...

Secret Baath files may help Chalabi settle old scores May 8 2003

Ahmad Chalabi, the exiled financier promoted by the Pentagon as a leader of postwar Iraq, claims to have obtained 25 tonnes of intelligence documents detailing Saddam Hussein's relationship with foreign governments and Arab leaders.
The files, seized by supporters of his Iraqi National Congress (INC) from Baath party offices and secret police stations, may fuel a fresh round of recriminations and score-settling as politicians meeting in Baghdad struggle to agree the terms of an interim administration.

In interviews with Abu Dhabi television and Newsweek magazine, Chalabi has already threatened to use the papers to damage the Jordanian royal family and the Al-Jazeera television organisation, with which he has had long-running disputes.

The INC offices in London said that some of the documents may be published, but other Iraqi political groups, and the British Foreign Office, called for the files to be returned to the authorities.

The papers were collected from abandoned buildings used by Saddam's Special Security Organisation (SSO) and the Mukhabarat intelligence service, from Baath party offices, and from the Iraqi army.

Oh yes, this makes a lot of sense:

AFTER THE WAR: INTELLIGENCE; U.S. Said to Seek Help of Ex-Iraqi Spies on Iran
July 22, 2003

Baghdad -- Relying on the help of an Iraqi political party, the United States has moved to resurrect parts of Iraq's once-feared intelligence service, with the branch that monitors Iran among the top priorities, former Iraqi agents and politicians say.

The Iraqi National Congress, which is led by Ahmad Chalabi, the longtime exile who is now a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, says its senior officials have met with senior members of the so-called Iran and Turkey branch of the Mukhabarat, or Iraqi intelligence, over the past several weeks. The party has received documents from the intelligence officers and recruited them into a reconstituted version of the unit, said Abdulaziz Kubaisi, the Iraqi National Congress official responsible for the recruiting effort.

American officials, he said, are fully informed about what the party is doing. Iraqi intelligence officers who have been asked to rejoin the branch contend that the United States is orchestrating the effort.

"As far as what we do, we are sending back information to the Pentagon, to people who are responsible," Kubaisi said. "They know the nature of what we're doing. There is coordination. We have representatives of (U.S. Defense Secretary Donald) Rumsfeld (at the Congress)."

But some Middle East experts said trying to revive the branch before a sovereign government is in place and working through a political party could backfire.

"This sets a bad precedent because you don't have a government in place, and because Chalabi's party is a minority and doesn't represent the majority of Iraqis," said Edward Walker, former ambassador to Egypt and Israel under former President George Bush and now president of the Middle East Institute, "I think it will be highly controversial to rebuild the intelligence arm when there are so many unresolved questions about Iraqi intelligence from before."

The effort to reach out to former Iraqi intelligence officials also appears hard to harmonize with the American drive to "de-Baathify" Iraqi society, given the prominence of the Baath Party of Saddam Hussein in his government.

A senior American official said concern about Iran was driving some of the discussion about moving quickly to re-establish an intelligence service. The official said the United States recognized that Iraq had a good intelligence apparatus focused on Iran because activities in the neighboring country might affect Iraqi security at home.

People close to the Iran branch said the Americans had also expressed interest in reviving the intelligence service's Syria branch.

So, recent accounts by the CIA and Iraqis show that Iraqi intelligence infiltrated the exile groups during the 90’s. And, Ahmed Chalabi is suspected of compromising a CIA backed coup in 1995, which is one of the reasons that he’s so mistrusted in intelligence circles today. He tried to implicate one of the Iraqi CIA assets who later went on to help the US in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

He has been revealed as the main source for what seems to be the er…”highly exaggerated” claims of WMD, to the NY Times and one presumes, his pals in the Pentagon.

He is dropped into Iraq by the Pentagon while the war is still going on and finds himself alone in the headquarters of the Iraqi intelligence service turning up all kinds of documents that tie Saddam to al Qaeda and other Arab states like his enemies in Jordan (where he was convicted of fraud.)

Now, he is reported to be “resurrecting” the Iraqi Intelligence branch dealing with Iran and possibly Syria even though he is only the head of a nominal political party in Iraq.

I don’t know about you, but it sure seems like Ahmed Chalabi has a rather unusual and focused interest in the Iraqi intelligence apparatus for a guy who hadn’t lived in Iraq for more than 40 years and who is suspected by the CIA of causing at least 80 friendly Iraqi deaths by exposing a coup plot he was not involved in.

This man’s relationship to the top policy makers in the Pentagon needs to be looked at much more closely.

There is something very wrong with this picture.

And, just to illustrate what a true man of the Iraqi people he is, the NY Times reported on July 17th:

A delegation from Iraq's new Governing Council, scheduled to leave Baghdad for New York, suffered a last minute defection by Ahmad Chalabi, the leader of the Iraqi National Congress.

Aides to Mr. Chalabi said there were several reasons for his cancelation. Prominent among them was the transport aircraft provided by the American military, which was not equipped with seats. The delegates were to be strapped onto benches for a flight to Abu Dhabi, an interim destination that also did not meet with Mr. Chalabi's approval.

In addition to his discontent over the seating arrangements, Mr. Chalabi was reported by his aides to be unhappy that Adnan Pachachi, a 80-year-old former diplomat, had been designated chairman of the delegation in a voice vote while Mr. Chalabi was not present. Mr. Pachachi and Mr. Chalabi are rivals of sorts for leadership on the Governing Council.