The Chalabi Follies

Ahmed Chalabi wrote his doctoral dissertation on the intricacies of Knot Theory – and surely he has tied his neoconservative patrons in a knot of Gordian proportions as they take up the cudgels in his defense.

You can piss on Chalabi,” said George W. Bush to Jordan’s King Abdullah, after learning that the neocons’ man in Baghdad was sending intelligence gleaned from American sources to his patrons and friends in Tehran, and suddenly the erstwhile “liberator” was metaphorically showered with bad luck: not only cut off from his U.S. government stipend, but also on the receiving end of some “liberation” himself.

Although the raid on Chalabi’s home, and the headquarters of his Iraqi National Congress, was supposed to have been carried out by Iraqi police, a number of sources place Americans at the scene, kicking the door in and wrecking the place. Chalabi’s neoconservative defenders now find themselves in the unfamiliar position of denouncing the U.S. “dictatorship,” as Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign policy and defense issues at the American Enterprise Institute, whined:

“I think the Coalition Provisional Authority has lost its grip on reality. The CPA has spent too much time in Saddam’s palace, and they’ve caught a whiff of dictatorship. There were no charges against him – and they smashed up his house. Can you imagine if we did that to a member of Congress here? That’s what he is.”

Chalabi, of course, has been elected by no one except the neocons. As P. Mitchell Prothero points out in the Washington Times, “in the fledgling opinion polls of the new Iraq, Chalabi always polls lower in popularity than Saddam.” But that is quite enough for Ms. Pletka and her coterie of laptop bombardiers, who now have a martyr to the somewhat quixotic cause of Iraqi “democracy.”

True, there are no charges against Chalabi – yet. But the charges against over a dozen of his associates, including Aras Karim Habib, the 47-year-old Shia Kurd who heads the INC’s “intelligence service” – including theft of government property, extortion, bribery, and kidnapping – are bound to implicate their leader, who has always ruled the INC with the same iron hand he would dearly like to take the reins of power in Iraq.

Michael Rubin, also of AEI – formerly with the Office of Special Plans and fresh from Iraq, where he was a “political advisor” – is even more emphatic in his condemnation of those damned Yankee imperialists, deploring the “gratuitous violence” of the raid. He even does a pretty good Seymour Hersh imitation:

“Bremer has not learned, neither has the CIA, that humiliation of Iraqis backfires. We’re fumbling big time.”

As a mimic, Rubin’s skills are considerable. But logic is not his strong point. Abu Ghraib, according to Rubin, may have been a public relations “disaster,” but, far from being a systemic problem, isn’t really that big a deal:

“Professors and pundits may say that the sky has fallen, but Iraqis have a broader perspective. They may forgive the actions of a few soldiers.”

Ah, but a similar – if far less violent and degrading – assault on the neocons’ man in Iraq: now that is truly unforgivable. Why, they even helped themselves to the contents of Chalabi’s well-stocked refrigerator!

Clifford May, president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, militantly neocon in outlook, finds Chalabi’s sudden fall from grace “confusing and disturbing.” Is this any way to treat a convicted embezzler and known liar, who fed us phony “intelligence” about Iraqi WMD in the run-up to war – including outright forgeries – and bilked the American taxpayers out of who knows how many millions over the years? May is plenty mad about it:

“On the face of it, the way he was treated strikes me as less than respectful for someone who spent many years working for the liberation of his country, and while I’m sure he is no Mother Teresa, very few people in that neighborhood are. If people in the Middle East see us treating our friends and allies this way, they may conclude they’re better off being our enemy.”

We haven’t seen this kind of “anti-American” rhetoric since Michael Moore last opened his mouth. Close your eyes and you can almost imagine you’re listening to Noam Chomsky. Or, to go back a bit further, we might almost be hearing the standard leftist defense of Ho Chi Minh, who really was no Mother Teresa, but, then again, very few people in that neighborhood are. “Uncle Ho,” as they used to call him, spent many years working for the “liberation” of his country: he, too, received aid from his foreign sponsors.

Chalabi’s American fans are as unthinking in their adulation as the “New” Leftists of the 1960s were about various Third World “revolutionary” despots, including Fidel Castro, Ben Bella of Algeria, and even the monstrous Kim Il Sung. The next thing you know, we’ll see May, Pletka, and Rubin marching down the street chanting

Cha, Cha, Cha – labi! The INC will set Iraq free!

The old Marxian aphorism about history repeating itself “the first time as tragedy, the second as farce,” was never more applicable: especially since so many of the neocons are ex-leftists, of one sort or another, who – one might think – would have acquired some degree of self-awareness by now. No such luck. They’re still railing against the CIA and the U.S. State Department, only this time from the opposite perspective.

May’s defense of Chalabi is particularly hard to take. How dare we be less than respectful to a man who, according to government sources, has regularly and personally handed over information on American policy initiatives and military plans to his allies in Tehran! The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) has concluded that:

“‘Iranian intelligence has been manipulating the United States through Chalabi by furnishing through his Information Collection Program information to provoke the United States into getting rid of Saddam Hussein,’ said an intelligence source Friday who was briefed on the Defense Intelligence Agency’s conclusions, which were based on a review of thousands of internal documents.”

When the Iraqi police and their American overseers showed up on Chalabi’s doorstep, and proceeded to treat him exactly the way they have routinely abused ordinary Iraqis on a daily basis – kicking down the door, trashing the place, and generally humiliating everyone in sight – they were looking for Karim Habib, head of the INC’s “Information Collection Program.” In addition to charges of corruption leveled by Iraqis, U.S. government sources claim Habib passed classified documents and other tidbits to the Iranians.

It turns out that the INC was basically an Iranian intelligence operation, designed to rid the mullahs of their bitter enemy, Saddam Hussein, and extend Iranian influence into Iraq. Tehran did this in an aboveboard manner, with their open sponsorship of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), funded and trained in Iran, and now a major player in Iraqi politics – and covertly, via the INC.

“There was an ongoing intelligence relationship between Karim and the Iranian Intelligence Ministry, all funded by the U.S. government, inadvertently,” said one government source. But one has to wonder. What Patrick Lang, former director of the CIA’s Middle Eastern desk, calls “one of the most sophisticated and successful intelligence operations in history,” did not succeed inadvertently. Chalabi had to have some help from U.S. government officials – but who?

If the charges against the INC are true, then a number of questions need to be asked, as one of Joshua Marshall‘s readers, identified as “a former government official,” enumerates:

  • Where did he get the intelligence to leak? Who gave Chalabi the leaked classified information?

  • Was it lawful to provide Chalabi with classified USG military information that included such things as where our troops were and what they were doing?

  • Who is under investigation as a result of the intercepts of the Iranians discussing the intelligence provided by Chalabi?

  • Who are the investigators? Has this been referred to the Department of Justice?
    Did his provision of that information to Iran result in the death of U.S. soldiers in Shi’a areas?

  • Are the intel leaks the reason for the raids of Chalabi’s home?

  • Are the Intel leaks the reason they cut off his income?

  • Why did the USG say that Chalabi was not a “target” of the raids on his home? (It’s possible other members of his family are the ones who are being used directly to provide the intel to Iran.)

I, for one, want to know why Chalabi wasn’t a target – after all, isn’t this the guy who bilked us out of millions, lied us into war – and then boasted about it, hailing himself and his comrades as “heroes in error“? And if we want to know how Chalabi got his hot little hands on highly classified secrets, so he could sell them to the Iranians, then why not ask the crew that acted as a conduit for the INC’s phony “intelligence,” notably the Office of Special Plans, where Mr. Rubin used to work? I say: let’s put Rubin in the dock, and ask him.

One puzzling aspect of all this is how the neocons, who supposedly hate the Iranian mullahs, reconcile their support for Chalabi with his links to Tehran. But we mustn’t overlook the longstanding neocon-Iranian connection: it extends all the way back to the mid-1980s when the Iran-Contra scandal was dominating the headlines. Michael Ledeen, one of Chalabi’s loudest defenders, was shoulder-deep in the Iran-Contra mire, and has recently been playing much the same role, arranging a meeting between Iranian arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar, the Iranian middleman in the arms-for-hostages deal, and Harold Rhode, Defense Undersecretary Douglas Feith‘s Middle East specialist. Rhode was also the liaison between Feith’s office and Chalabi. A cozy arrangement all around.

I just don’t buy the analysis put forward by John Dizard, in Salon, who avers that Chalabi’s neocon friends are “turning on him.” Dizard purports to tell us “How Ahmed Chalabi Conned the Neocons” – but Chalabi is a neocon, and they aren’t turning on him, now are they?

The Salon piece cites L. Marc Zell, a former law partner of Feith’s and friend of the Chalabi family, as saying, “Ahmed Chalabi is a treacherous, spineless turncoat,” but Zell denies making these comments. According to Dizard, the reason for Zell’s disenchantment is that the Mosul to Haifa oil pipeline that Chalabi supposedly promised his neocon friends is not about to magically materialize. However, since the pipeline would have to pass through Jordanian territory, and that is not about to happen for a number of reasons, Dizard fails to convince. Zell’s alleged outburst is even less credible when one considers that an Iraqi government isn’t even in place yet – it’s a little early to be bitterly disappointed about the demise of a long-term project that may never have been all that real to begin with.

I much prefer the Telegraph‘s take on this, which views the story of Chalabi’s meteoric rise and fall through the prism of a titanic struggle between the U.S. State Department, the CIA, and top military commanders, on one side, and the neocon-dominated civilian leadership of the Defense Department on the other. The piece cites an advisor to the State Department as being unable to resist a smile as he quipped:

“Another shattered illusion for our friends at the Department of Defense. How much more can they take?”

They’re going to have to take a lot more in the coming days. All the Churchillian hot air they can muster won’t cushion their fall. Before this is over, yet another grand jury may be convened by Justice Department investigators, as in the case of l’affaire Plame.

That this is all coming out now, a week after the INC was cut off the American dole, and a little over a month before the June 30 hand-over of sovereignty to a caretaker government from which Chalabi is excluded, was hardly coincidental. After all, U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies have known about Mr. Habib’s Iranian connections since at least 1998, when they tried to deport Dr. Ali Yasin Mohammed Karim, on the grounds that no relatives of Mr. Habib, a known Iranian agent, were to be allowed in the country. Dr. Ali admitted being a relative of Habib’s, but said he never lied about his name.

We knew all along about Chalabi’s Iranian connections: action is being taken now because the jig is up for the neocons and their Iraqi proxies, and because several key figures in the War Party’s high command – Feith, Wolfowitz, and others – are reportedly on the way out (although rumor has it that Wolfie will be back if Bush wins a second term).

What was being played out in the raid on Chez Chalabi was the final act in an intramural drama that began in the wake of our Pyrrhic “victory” last year, when the President announced that we had “won” in Iraq and U.S. nation-builders were waiting in Kuwait to take over and start their work. General Jay Garner, initially placed in charge of the occupation, was reportedly at odds with Wolfowitz for pushing Chalabi and his followers – including the Iranian agent Habib – for posts in important Iraqi ministries. The end of this factional fight – and the victory of the CIA/State Department/military Axis of (Relative) Goodness – is signaled by the news that poor old Rummy apparently didn’t even know about the raid until it had already happened.

The day of reckoning is at hand: the neocons, who lied us into war, are now being dumped over the side by this administration, which is in fear of its political life. The war the neocons wanted, and George W. Bush gave them, has destroyed his presidency, and the Republicans in Congress are worried, and restless. They don’t want to be taken down with him, and are demanding reassurances from the White House that this whole thing can be dumped in the lap of the United Nations, and put on the backburner, like Kosovo. Oh, wait….

If only conditions in Iraq were Kosovo-like, as bad as that is, it would be far better than what we have today: a full-scale insurrection against the occupation, and a population that overwhelmingly wants their “liberators” out.

Kosovo-ization isn’t going to happen, nor does it look like we’re getting ready to get out, as the neocons fear and many of us hope. Instead, more troops are on the way, and the war, far from winding down, is expected to escalate.

All the ingredients for a complete meltdown are present in the Iraqi mix. The military is asking for reinforcements for a reason: otherwise we’ll soon lose control of events on the ground, and the one turn of events that was never supposed to happen, and wasn’t even considered by the war planners, looks likelier by the minute: an American defeat.

We’re winning every battle, yet we could very well lose the war. America can’t be defeated militarily, yet can’t win politically – and that’s where it counts. It was an impossible mission, foisted on us by a cabal that has betrayed not only the people of Iraq, but also their own country – by outing a CIA agent involved in sensitive work, by aiding an agent of a foreign power in procuring and leaking top secret information, and by hijacking U.S. foreign policy and turning it against the national interest. Chalabi the charlatan is just their instrument. We need to ask who, and what, made him possible: who were his enablers, his accomplices, his Washington patrons?

Why doesn’t the Senate Armed Services Committee, or some other congressional board of inquiry, subpoena Chalabi and start asking him some hard questions, starting with the ones cited above? Chalabi is offering to testify, and Congress ought to take up the challenge. How did he get his hands on classified documents? Who knew about his links to the Iranians, and when did they know it? Oh, and, by the way, what happened to all that money we gave you? And that’s just getting warmed up….

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].