Chalabi, a key figure in post-US-invasion Iraq, dies at 71 of apparent heart attack
Backer of regime change lost credibility when no weapons of mass destruction found
Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi politician who from exile helped persuade the United States to invade Iraq in 2003. Photograph: the New York Times
Ahmed Chalabi, chief proponent of US-enforced regime change in Iraq, died yesterday at the age of 71 in Baghdad, where he headed the Shia fundamentalist government’s finance committee. Although he was found dead in bed after reportedly suffering a heart attack, an Iraqi source told The Irish Times that former prime minister Ayad Allawi has requested an autopsy.
Mr Chalabi’s death is regarded as suspicious, the source said, because his aide, Intifah Qanbar, has been exposing widespread corruption on al-Baghdadiya television channel. Speaking to the BBC about Chalabi’s death, Mr Allawi confirmed that Chalabi had been engaged in the battle against rampant corruption.
He established the US-funded Iraqi National Congress (INC), which sought the overthrow of President Saddam Hussein and lobbied neo-conservatives in the George W Bush White House and the Pentagon to invade Iraq on the false pretext the regime had an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. Mr Chalabi produced a defector codenamed “Curveball” by the CIA to fabricate claims about banned weaponry.
Senior administration figures touted Mr Chalabi as their choice for prime minister and his INC as a potential government but found he had no following in Iraq. Instead of attaining the top job, he was appointed to the interim governing council and served as interim deputy prime minister and oil minister. He failed to secure election to parliament in the 2005 poll but won a seat in 2010.
Mr Chalabi’s credibility collapsed when, in the aftermath of the invasion, no weapons were found. He was dropped by Washington when he was found to be leaking sensitive US documents to Iran. He was also charged with circulating old currency meant for destruction and accused of appropriating state assets and dealing in stolen cars.
Born in Baghdad in 1944 into a distinguished secular Shia family, Mr Chalabi left the country in 1958 and did not return until the US occupation. After earning degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Chicago, he taught at the American University of Beirut.
In 1977, he founded Petra Bank in Jordan but, in 1989, was charged with embezzlement and false accounting. The bank collapsed and he fled the country in the boot of a friend’s Mercedes. He was tried in absentia and sentenced to 22 years. He was subsequently said to be involved in the liquidation of Lebanon’s Mebco bank and its Swiss branch.
During his time with Petra Bank, Mr Chalabi was said to have visited the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where Petra had branches, and Israel, where he developed ties with the country’s external intelligence agency, Mossad, and cultivated Albert Wohlstetter, a mentor of US neoconservatives. In the 1990s, he attempted to raise a Kurdish revolt against Saddam Hussein; it was crushed. The CIA reportedly provided the INC with $100 million.
In 2012, he was accused of supporting the main Bahraini Shia opposition movement on behalf of Iran.