Prime Minister Chalabi?

by , April 26, 2005

It seems like only yesterday that U.S. government officials, and their media amen corner, were hailing the “turning point” in the Iraq war. The election changed everything, the insurgency is winding down, and victory is at hand – or so the conventional wisdom of the moment assured us. That was then, however – and this is now:

“Violence is escalating sharply in Iraq after a period of relative calm that followed the January elections. Bombings, ambushes, and kidnappings targeting Iraqis and foreigners, both troops and civilians, have surged this month while the new Iraqi government is caught up in power struggles over cabinet positions.”

The Washington Post goes on to cite an anonymous military source:

“‘Definitely, violence is getting worse,’ said a U.S. official in Baghdad, who spoke on condition of anonymity. ‘My strong sense is that a lot of the political momentum that was generated out of the successful election, which was sort of like a punch in the gut to the insurgents, has worn off.’ The political stalemate ‘has given the insurgents new hope.'”

This conception of Iraq’s post-election “stalemate” doesn’t really give us the true flavor of what is going on in Baghdad, however, because that word implies the whole thing is somehow an accident, like a traffic jam, that nobody really planned: it just happened. The London Times, on the other hand, gives us a much more realistic account of what is really going on in America’s newly conquered province:

“‘The issue now is [Prime Minister-designate Ibrahim] Jaafari himself, with the Kurdish bloc and Allawi determined not to have him as prime minister,’ said a source. ‘They know their demands will not be met – they are making them to derail Jaafari’s attempts to name the government.’ The Americans are equally reluctant to embrace Jaafari. At a meeting last week with Iraqi politicians, the U.S. ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, is said to have made clear Washington’s reservations, not least because he is seen as too sympathetic to Iran. ‘They do not want Jaafari as prime minister at any cost,’ one source said.” [Emphasis added]

This isn’t a “stalemate” – it’s sabotage. The evidence is not just in the persistent obstructionism of the Kurds and the Allawi crowd, but in a little-noticed article of Iraq’s “interim constitution.” If we take a close look at that document – drawn up from notes compiled by former American viceroy Paul Bremer and written by a committee of handpicked Iraqis – the requirements set out in Article 38 are quite clear:

“The Presidency Council must agree on a candidate for the post of prime minister within two weeks. In the event that it fails to do so, the responsibility of naming the prime minister reverts to the National Assembly. In that event, the National Assembly must confirm the nomination by a two-thirds majority. If the prime minister is unable to nominate his Council of Ministers within one month, the Presidency Council shall name another prime minister.” [Emphasis added]

The capacity to derail the Shi’ite majority slate’s victory was built in to the very structure of Iraq’s fledgling “democracy.” The Kurds and the non-Shi’ite parties are playing the trump card dealt them by the American occupiers. They have been upping their demands, deliberately prolonging the process of choosing key ministers, because the clock is ticking on the efforts of the Shi’ite fundamentalist-dominated United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) – the overwhelming victor in the Iraqi elections – to put together a government. What the moderates and Iraqi secularists, including the followers of neocon sock puppet Ahmed Chalabi, couldn’t win at the polls, they may yet steal in a series of murky backroom deals. The outcome of the process set up by American diktat may well end up with Chalabi at the helm, as per the original neocon plan.

The infamoushero in error,” you’ll remember, had a falling out with the U.S. after it was revealed that he passed vital American intelligence to his allies and paymasters in Tehran. After the raid on his Baghdad compound by U.S. agents in plainclothes, Chalabi announced that he and his Iraqi National Congress were joining the Shi’ite coalition, and suddenly anti-American rebel Moqtada Sadr (also a member of the coalition) was his best buddy. If Chalabi manages to sneak into power via the back door, by becoming the “compromise” candidate acceptable to the UIA-Shi’ite parties and the Kurds, it will be a testament to the power of the neocons to stage a comeback – even over and against official U.S. policy.

Chalabi as prime minister would certainly provide an interesting denouement to the Iraqi tragicomedy, but he would have to rule out a state visit to neighboring Jordan – there’s still a Jordanian warrant out for his arrest for embezzlement and fraud in the Petra Bank rip-off. Chalabi made off with millions, fleeing the country and eventually worming his way into the affections of our neoconservatives, who put him on the American dole. He fed us a continuous stream of lies glibly portrayed as “erroneous” intelligence about Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction” and nonexistent links to al-Qaeda, while he fed the Iranians what former Pentagon and CIA official Vince Cannistraro called “very, very sensitive” U.S. secrets. Cannistraro also linked Chalabi’s treason to a cabal of dual-loyalists closer to home:

“The evidence has pointed quite clearly, not only the fact that Chalabi might be an agent of influence of the Iranian government and that [Chalabi’s intelligence chief, Aras Karim Habib] may be a paid agent of the Iranian intelligence service, but it is shown that there is a leak of classified information from the United States to Iran through Chalabi and Karim and that is the particular point that the FBI is investigating. In other words, some U.S. officials are under investigation on suspicion of providing classified information to these people that ended up in Iran.”

The ideological proclivities if not the exact identities of these officials are all too clear. As Sidney Blumenthal reported around this time last year:

“At a conservative think tank in downtown Washington, and across the Potomac at the Pentagon, FBI agents have begun paying quiet calls on prominent neoconservatives, who are being interviewed in an investigation of potential espionage, according to intelligence sources. Who gave Ahmed Chalabi classified information about the plans of the U.S. government and military?”

The investigation into the funneling of U.S. vital secrets to Iran appears to be part of a broader probe into foreign penetration of U.S. government agencies and policymaking bodies, including the Pentagon. If the FBI is knocking on the doors of prominent neoconservative think-tankers in regard to the Chalabi affair, the feds are practically knocking down the doors of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in regard to matters that may be intimately related.

Formerly the most powerful lobby in Washington, AIPAC is the focus of a wide-ranging investigation into the activities of at least two of its top officials, who were caught red-handed facilitating the handover of classified U.S. government documents to Israeli embassy officials. Both Chalabi and the neoconservatives have a history of close ties with Israel: many of the latter have strong links to the far-right wing of Israel’s Likud party. If Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin and his co-conspirators passed U.S. Secrets to Israel, then why not to Chalabi as well?

Any attempt to trace the pattern of treason – was it Neocons > Chalabi > Tehran, or Neocons > Israel > Tehran? – may be forestalled if not completely terminated if and when Chalabi emerges from the smoke-filled back rooms of Iraqi politics the victor.

With Chalabi installed as Iraq’s prime minister, an investigation into his spying activities would become highly inconvenient for the U.S. government. Pressing an inquiry into Chalabi-gate under those circumstances would raise a number of embarrassing questions, the first being: Did over 1,500 Americans die so that an Iranian double agent who passed U.S. Secrets to our enemies could be elevated to power in Baghdad?

I wonder how the American public is going to react to that little bit of news. Of one thing we can be sure, however: If Chalabi grabs the prize, the collective sigh of relief coming from the offices of the American Enterprise Institute will be audible all the way to Baghdad.

The Iraqi Shi’ite majority, on the other hand, is liable to have a different response. Professor Juan Cole, head of the Middle Eastern Studies Association and author of a widely-cited blog, Informed Comment, foresees trouble on the horizon:

“If the Shi’ite religious majority in parliament is thwarted in this way, I am sure that Shi’ite leaders will bring tens of thousands of protesters into the streets, and the country will end up even more destabilized than it is.”

It was tens of thousands of Shi’ite protesters called out into the streets by the Grand Ayatollah Sistani who forced the U.S. occupation authority to forgo their “caucus” plan, which would have allowed a few handpicked American stooges and professional hand-raisers to simply impose Chalabi (or Allawi) and a prefabricated “constitution” at gunpoint. It was the ayatollah who demanded direct elections to the National Assembly and won the day over American opposition – without firing a shot. Only a fatwa.

Another fatwa coming from Sistani headquarters – this time declaring Article 38 of the “interim constitution” null and void – would accelerate the ongoing meltdown of our Iraqi policy, and take it to another level.

In that event, U.S. troops would face an even greater potential threat – aside from the Sunni insurgency, which is growing in scope and ferocity – in the prospect of a Shi’ite rebellion along the lines of the one launched by the Sadrists last year. Moqtada Sadr, whose followers killed a good number of American soldiers in pitched battles, is not only still walking around Iraq a year after the U.S. military vowed to get him, but members of his movement are sitting in the National Assembly as part of the governing coalition.

The web of intrigue, backstabbing, and espionage that runs from Washington to Baghdad and back again has to be seen against the backdrop of the rush to re-divide the Middle East in the wake of the American invasion – and pending withdrawal, if you believe Bob Novak and Pat Buchanan. If, like me, you don’t believe they’re correct, the inherent tendency of the Iraqi state to unravel is nonetheless undeniable. The Iranians, for their part, will gobble up the lion’s share – as we said in this space from the beginning – with little pieces of the carcass torn off by lesser predators such as Turkey.

There is another diner at the postwar feast, with the second-largest portion bitten off by our closest ally in the region, namely Israel. According to Seymour Hersh, the Israelis long ago concluded that the war against the Iraqi insurgency was unsustainable: their “Plan B,” now that the Americans have botched it, is to pour money and intelligence operatives into Kurdistan. Ostensibly undertaken to keep a close watch on Iranian nuclear facilities, this effort extends Israeli influence into the very heart of the formerly Arab world.

Just think: If Chalabi becomes prime minister, he can keep his promise to build a pipeline from oil-rich Kirkuk, in Kurdistan, to Israel. If not, the Israelis can always push their Kurdish allies to opt for independence, in which case the pipeline could be built anyway – once the “Cedar Revolution” spawns a color-coded twin across the border in Syria.

Forgetting the grandiloquent promises of the inimitable Chalabi, however, the Israeli penetration of Kurdistan makes perfect sense in the context of American pressure on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to make yet more concessions on the Palestinian question. If the Americans keep insisting on a viable Palestinian state and pressing for the dismantling of settlements, the Israelis can always tweak them where it hurts: in Iraq. This is perhaps yet another factor, combined with a natural combativeness, that helps explain Kurdish intransigence in the matter of forming a national government – and their sudden willingness, even determination, to sabotage the American project in Iraq.

Read more by Justin Raimondo