Chalabi still angling for top job despite unpopularity


A man who was key to the US invasion of Iraq is leveraging his recently won parliament seat, writes MICHAEL JANSEN

THE MOST controversial figure to secure election in Iraq’s March 7th parliamentary poll was Ahmad Chalabi, the man who convinced the Bush administration to invade his country and topple the Baath party regime. Chalabi is both survivor and creature of contradictions. Once Washington’s darling, Chalabi alienated the US by aligning himself with Iran. A secular politician, he ran on the ticket of the Shia fundamentalist Iraqi National Alliance (INA).

Born in 1944 in Baghdad into a wealthy Shia clan, Chalabi and his family left Iraq when he was 12. He was educated in Britain and the US. He took his first degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, earned a doctorate in mathematics at the University of Chicago, and taught for a time at the American University of Beirut.

While in Lebanon, he married the daughter of a prominent Shia politician. In 1977, Chalabi established Petra Bank in Jordan but, a decade later, was smuggled out of the country in the boot of a car when the bank could not satisfy its creditors. The bank went bust and he was tried, convicted and sentenced in absentia to 22 years in prison for fraud.

Following the 1991 US-led war on Iraq, Chalabi founded the Iraqi National Congress (INC), an umbrella group designed to unite exiled opponents of the Iraqi government. Although the INC never got off the ground as a serious opposition movement, Chalabi used it as a platform from which he lobbied the US Congress to pass the Iraq Liberation Act, which allocated $97 million to support Iraqi dissidents connected to the INC.

In the run-up to the 2003 war on Iraq, Chalabi provided the Bush administration with a phoney defector codenamed “Curveball” who supplied bogus intelligence on Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction, the casus belli for the war.

Once Baghdad had fallen, Chalabi, who expected to be named prime minister, entered Iraq and proceeded to Baghdad where he made his headquarters at the Hunting Club in the embassy district of Mansour.

He was appointed by the US occupation regime to the interim governing council and to head the commission purging members of the outlawed Baath party from the military, administration and public life. But since he had spent his entire adult life abroad, he had no credibility with Iraqis.

The US did not oblige him, and Iraqis rejected his 2005 bid for a seat in parliament.

Undeterred by the distaste for him felt by most Iraqis, Chalabi is now seeking to disqualify winning members of the Iraqiya bloc of Iyad Allawi, which took most seats in the new assembly, in order to throw open the contest for the premiership and secure the top job.