The situation in Iraq can be best characterized by telling the tale of Ahmed Chalabi. After being one of the main lobbyists for the war and a main source for the claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, Chalabi had a falling out with the U.S. administration, only to become one of the big players in the newly formed Iraq government.
Chalabi has had quite an illustrious past. He was born in Iraq in 1944 to a wealthy Shi’a family. His family, however, left Iraq in the mid-’50s, allowing Chalabi to study in the United Kingdom and United States, receiving a doctorate in mathematics from the University of Chicago.
In 1977, Chalabi founded the Petra Bank in Jordan and that’s where it starts to get murky. When his bank went broke, he was tried in absentia and convicted of bank fraud. There are stories that he had to flee the country in the trunk of a car, accounts he himself has dismissed as politically-motivated rumors, labeling them “ridiculous.” In fear of the outstanding 22-year prison sentence with hard labor, he is no longer able to visit Jordan.
Most Americans first took note of Chalabi when the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 and made him one of the ruling members on the interim governing council. But his involvement in the war started before the invasion.
His agenda to take out Saddam Hussein was featured in front-page stories written by Judith Miller for The New York Times that prominently shilled for the war — albeit only named as an anonymous source.
But Chalabi also fed information to the CIA that we now know was untrue. Nicknamed “Curveball,” he essentially told the Bush administration what it wanted to hear to justify an invasion of Iraq. He was banking on a position in the government of Iraq once Saddam was taken out, and looking at how things played out he got what he wanted, albeit with some detours.
What was disturbing, though, is that the CIA was very varied about his information and said so in a study. But the leading members in the Bush administration took Chalabi’s word over their intelligence adviser’s and went ahead anyway.
This, of course, begs the question of how close Chalabi was to the inner power circle of the Bush administration. In his interview with Tim Russert on NBC’s Meet the Press, President George W. Bush sat in the Oval Office and told television viewers that Chalabi was one of the reasons why the invasion had been worthwhile. Russert had asked President Bush about the possibility that Iraqis may have a free election but decide to go with an extremist government that was aligned with Iran’s interest, rather than reflecting U.S. marching orders.
President Bush dismissed this and said, “They’re not going to develop that. And the reason I can say that is because I’m very aware of this basic law they’re writing. They’re not going to develop that because right here in the Oval Office I sat down with Mr. Pachachi and Chalabi and al-Hakim, people from different parts of the country that have made the firm commitment, that they want a constitution eventually written that recognizes minority rights and freedom of religion.”
So yes, Chalabi had the ear of the president, probably more so than his security advisers. But it gets worse. In summer 2004, Chalabi allegedly leaked U.S. intelligence information to Iran. The information was told to him by a drunk U.S. official and included the important fact that the United States had broken a code used by Iranian intelligence. To find proof, U.S. forces stormed his house in Baghdad and searched it, but no conclusive evidence was found in the end. Ironically this put him in a better standing with most Iraqis as it showed him not to be a puppet of the American government.
Chalabi was clearly banking on becoming the first Prime Minister of Iraq, but had to back out when the party he ran for made clear Chalabi lacked party support. He dropped out the day of the party election and came remarkably close.
Now he will most likely end a senior cabinet member of Iraq’s finances. Looking at his track record, that’s hardly where he should be.
That is why Chalabi’s tale so aptly illustrates what went wrong in Iraq. The intention of giving Iraqis freedom of choice may have been a good one, and nobody in their right mind would defend Saddam Hussein’s regime. But only time will tell if the individuals wielding power now will do so in the interest of the Iraqi people.
Sebastian Meyer is a senior majoring in geography and is the Oracle Opinion Editor. firstname.lastname@example.org