Denmark Contemplates the Iraqi Con-Man

And now to the latest Iraq-related scandal. No, really: this one centers around the person of Ahmed Chalabi, of the Iraqi National Congress, long the Pentagon’s favorite anti-Saddam Iraqi exile, recipient of a monthly $335,000 payment from the (US) Defense Intelligence Agency, and, in return, the source of juicy intelligence from within the Hussein regime, most notably about its stocks of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). The recent raid on Chalabi’s Baghdad house to seize computer records and documents, performed by Iraqi policemen under the protection of US soldiers, was a signal that perhaps this relationship is not so cozy anymore, something understandable given the record so far of those WMD actually turning up in practice. Now there is talk that Chalabi might have been an agent in the pay of Iran all along, feeding the Bush administration with the false information on Iraq that it wanted to hear as a justification to depose Hussein, while at the same time feeding his Iranian paymasters with truly exclusive top secret American intelligence information.

Yes, the suspicion is dawning that the United States might essentially have been hoodwinked into going to war against Iraq – and that officials at this administration’s highest levels might eventually have to answer charges of the unauthorized passing-on of choice information to their good comrade Chalabi, only to see it transferred right along to officials in Tehran. The broad outline of all this, at least, should be familiar by now to anyone who peruses the major American papers (New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times) on a regular basis; I myself rather like the extensive account given here on the Parapundit weblog (and updated here). One interesting side-question that Parapundit’s Randall Parker raises is: How long before the rest of the world wakes up to the fact that, when it comes to international intrigue, we (i.e. the Americans) are nothing but “a bunch of country hick rubes”?

Well, the Danes probably are already aware of this, for one.

Especially the newspaper Information (Iranian Hand in Iraqi War?), which specializes in not only a rather more “leftist” point-of-view (and that from within a Danish context!) but also in producing rather more commentary than strict reporting, packaging that in longer-than-average, feuilleton-type articles. Not for Information, for example, is the sort of idle speculation – such as that recently from Jyllands-Posten (illustrated, admittedly) on the recent steady growth in bust-sizes among Danish women – that appears from time to time in the other “serious” Danish dailies to betray the rather sober, high-minded attitude we all like to maintain when considering grave international questions of war and peace. (Wait! Don’t click there! Come back!)

Information’s writer Mette Jørgensen does a good job of setting out the main Chalabi allegations, and even adding some interesting tidbits – admittedly, mostly through a process of gathering and collating material from a number of secondary sources. (Jørgensen leans particularly heavily on the Los Angeles Times and on the Internet political newsletter Counterpunch.) Among the tastier tidbits: that both the CIA and State Department had ceased cooperation with Chalabi back in 2002, when it became apparent that he could not account for several million dollars that he had been paid. In fact, much of that money had gone to Iran, with even a surreptitious INC office opened in Tehran to supervise the money-flow. (Chalabi joked, according to one source, that the Americans were breaking their embargo against Iran with their own money.) Jørgensen also cites denials from the Iranians, from yesterday (26 May), that Chalabi had ever been their spy. Iranian officials had indeed held “frequent meetings” with him, but “spy”? – no way, said Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi to CNN. And finally there is an account of an attempt by Iran to discredit Iraq on the WMD front as far back as 1995, when a report on Saddam’s nuclear capabilities submitted to the International Atomic Energy Agency by an Iraqi defector with close ties to Chalabi’s INC, Khidir Hamza, was ultimately rejected by that agency as a fake – there were clear signs much of it had first been written in Farsi (the Iranian national language) and then translated to Arabic.


Another serious Danish newspaper also gets into the act here, namely Berlingske Tidende with its article The Iraqi Swindler, by Lene Frøslev, a handy capsule-biography of Ahmed Chalabi. “Leave my people in peace! Let my people be free!” – that’s Chalabi’s current posture, what Frøslev terms a mixture of Moses and Martin Luther King, as the once tight relationship between the 59-year-old Iraqi exile and his sponsors high in the American government crumbles. It has been a transition breathtaking indeed in its swiftness; and it is perhaps worth remembering that Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress was once the darling not only of the neo-conservatives and the Pentagon, but also of the CIA and even of Bill Clinton, under whose administration those payments to the INC started. Frøslev’s article recalls how it was Chalabi who first brought the VISA card and the automatic teller machine to Jordan, through the Petra Bank that he founded there in 1977 – but who then found himself having to flee the country in 1989 as Petra Bank went bankrupt under accusations that Chalabi was using it as his very own personal treasure-horde. (Chalabi maintains that the bank was still sound, but that he was the victim of a political vendetta by Jordan’s then-king Hussein, a supposed ally of Saddam Hussein – no relation, though.)

His next act was to found the INC in London in 1992, which quickly attracted American funding. But much of that funding was initially from the CIA, for the purpose of having Chalabi fulfill his promise to foment rebellion against Saddam both in the Kurdish north and the Shiite south. His words soon turned out to outstrip his deeds, and the CIA then dropped him as unreliable, but in the meantime he had forged ties with leading neo-conservative thinkers who would take up prominent policy positions in the administration of George Bush the younger. This enabled him to be well-placed at the time of his long-awaited return to Baghdad in April, 2003, just after the success of the American invasion, with his own private army in place, himself on the Governing Council, and close friends and family occupying important positions such as in the finance and oil ministries and in the Iraqi central bank. And let’s also not forget that, back before such things as revelations of the American abuse of Iraqi prisoners took the spotlight away from the effort underway to bring Saddam Hussein to some sort of trial, it was a relative of Ahmed Chalabi who was to be put in charge of that process.


But now his credibility with the Bush administration is shot, and neither Paul Bremer nor UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi have any time for him. “Eight of his closest men are now on the run,” Frøslev reports, “among which the leader of his intelligence organization, Aras Karim Habib” – and he’s the suspected double-agent who acted as the conduit of highly-classified American materials to Iran. But this hardly means an end to his capacity to make trouble. Frøslev ends up her piece with speculation that Chalabi could himself become a Shiite leader; he apparently has taken up the cause of Muqtada-al-Sadr, the firebrand Shiite imam whose “Mahdi Army” has been actively fighting the Americans for weeks around the holy cities of central Iraq. (This, though, stands in awkward contrast to Frøslev’s earlier assertion in her article that “Ahmed Chalabi is less popular in Iraq than [even] Saddam Hussein,” not to mention with Chalabi’s current status as a member of the Governing Council, which one could reasonably say Muqtada-al-Sadr is rebelling against.)

Denmark may be far away from Iraq, but information flows rather freely in this advanced Internet age. Plus, there are still Danish soldiers there on the ground in Iraq. So there’s little doubt that the tale about the web of intrigue surrounding Ahmed Chalabi and his INC is already well out of the bag. Naturally, if I see interesting treatments that add further value in other European presses, I will write about them, too.

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