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Saturday, July 07, 2007

Ahmed Chalabi Interview

There's an interview with Ahmed Chalabi in the Wall Street Journal, but before getting to that, here's a brief reminder of Chalabi's history:

Tenet: Cheney Staffers Idolized Chalabi ‘Like Schoolgirls With Their First Crush’, ThinkProgress: In his new book, former CIA Director George Tenet reveals that Vice President Cheney and Pentagon officials pressed for the installation of an Iraqi government led by Ahmed Chalabi, an exile who provided bad information on Iraq’s supposed weapons programs. ...

The ... Defense Intelligence Agency said it was paying Chalabi’s organization $350,000 a month to provide information. ... Today, Chalabi oversees the implementation of the escalation strategy on the Iraqi end.

As noted here:

Chalabi was the source for discredited news stories about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction which were penned by New York Times reporter Judith Miller. In 2001, Miller wrote a front-page story about claims that Saddam had twenty secret WMD sites hidden in Iraq. The information turned out to be bogus. [New York Times, 2/26/04; The New Yorker, 6/7/04]

Here's some of the interview:

Survivor, by Melik Kaylan, WSJ: ...Mr. Chalabi is hardly the transient opportunist that his detractors at the State Department, CIA and on the antiwar left once made him out to be. He's still in Iraq, despite long ago losing whatever American support he once had and failing to win a seat in the last parliamentary election. ... And almost alone among the Iraqi political figures, he not only lives but travels widely outside the Green Zone. ...

Though he's not in the current Maliki government, he is still courted by the state and given key appointments. He heads up the De-Baathification program and the Committee for Public Support of the "surge"... Community leaders from all sides troop through his doors daily. ...

On one occasion, ... we visited the football-field sized mosque complex of Khadimiya in Baghdad. It is one of Iraq's top Shiite holy sites... Wearing his trademark suit and tie, Mr. Chalabi was continuously mobbed by crowds...

Mr. Chalabi would appear to be the nearest thing Iraqis currently possess to a genuine walk-and-talk democratic politician, one who will risk life and limb... [T]he U.S.'s main error in Iraq, according to Mr. Chalabi, has been trying to micromanage ... Iraqi politics. "The U.S. should make a choice," he says, "either to accept full democracy and live with the consequences or undertake full control. ...

His recounting of post-war Iraqi history -- which began with the high-handed regency of L. Paul Bremer and then the appointed Iraqi government of Ayad Allawi -- returns again and again to this point.

"The problems began when the U.S. declared an official occupation," he says. "We told the U.S. not to have an occupation, that it would be a disaster. ... We wanted the Iraqis to run their own affairs, but we were not trusted to do that. Two years ahead of time, we asked [the U.S.] for a 10,000 man multiethnic military police force of Iraqis to be trained ... We were refused."

Mr. Chalabi continues: "...We planned to ... disarm the soldiers and keep them in their barracks... We intended to pay them, and absorb them selectively into our ranks. We had good intelligence. We knew who was who. Look at it now. ... Do the allies get any useful intelligence?"

With such views, Mr. Chalabi quickly added parts of the Bush administration to his enemies on the antiwar left. Relations became so strained during the Bremer-era that on May 20, 2004, U.S. soldiers raided his offices in Baghdad. He was also accused of leaking intelligence to Iranian operatives... From Mr. Chalabi's side the accusation meets with a ready dismissal...

Mr. Chalabi remains unrepentant in his criticism of what he calls "elementary mistakes" by the U.S., which he believes would not have happened if Iraqis had run things from the start. "...When the president said 'Mission Accomplished' he should have followed through and handed civilian government over to Iraqis, as was originally agreed."

So much for the past. Does he think the "surge" will succeed? "Not if it's just a military action," he says. "It's intended as a political initiative backed by military force. It creates the opportunity for political initiatives to work but they must be pursued. ... But paradoxically, the overall political scene may not clarify while the U.S. is ... engaged... Only when they have to face each other directly will Iraqis make their deals."

Mr. Chalabi ...[thinks] that some beneficent outcome can still be shaped from the chaos, and that Iraq can gain stability even (or especially) without U.S. ballast. Doesn't he think, as most outside commentators do, that a U.S. withdrawal will create an all-out regional conflict, sucking in nearby countries? "I'd say it's possible but not probable. Look at everyone who works for me, from all sides of Iraqi society. People want peace. They want to go back to their homes. If the U.S. leaves, the present government will fall and there will be elections quickly." To Mr. Chalabi's thinking, this will improve things because Iraqis will choose their real leaders, and they will be accountable to the electorate for delivering peace and practical benefits such as electricity and water. ...

After listening to Mr. Chalabi over time, one learns how to hear the meaning in his more cautious phrases. By the "real Iraq" he likely means the majority, Shiite-dominated Iraq. He talks about how "the Sunnis have lost the battle for Baghdad"... He believes that the Sunnis will ultimately face reality and make accommodation with fellow Iraqis once they accept that they are an even smaller minority than previously thought...

This perhaps is what Mr. Chalabi means by "letting Iraqi democracy succeed" -- that is, letting the sheer weight of numbers dictate. ...

Most interesting perhaps are Mr. Chalabi's views on Iran, which differ substantially from the alarm expressed by many of his current and former American backers. "The influence of Iran on Iraq is inevitable," he says. "It's been there for centuries. They supported the anti-Saddam resistance for years. They were the first to accept trade agreements, transit rights, electricity linkups and the like with the new Iraqi government. Some 90% of Iraq's population lives within 100 miles of Iran. We have an enormous land border in common and it's the only country that ships goods to us unhindered."

"I understand the U.S. has worries about Iranian power... Everything can be worked out. We will have to in the end anyway. What choice is there?"

Chalabi says some things I agree with, but given his history - his false stories on WMDs reported by Judith Miller in the New York Times helped to get us into this mess - I don't see why we would want to base policy on anything he has to say. But shunning the advice of those who were in error or misled us prior to the war, and Chalabi is hardly alone on that score, does not seem to be a lesson those currently in power have managed to learn, perhaps because they were part of the deception.

    Posted by on Saturday, July 7, 2007 at 02:52 AM in Economics, Iraq and Afghanistan, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (20)


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