Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Top Bush Aides Will Meet With Chalabi

Eli Lake, The NY Sun:
Iraq's deputy prime minister, Ahmad Chalabi, is scheduled to meet with four American Cabinet secretaries and the national security adviser this week in a visit to Washington that demonstrates he is back in the good graces of an administration that only a year and a half ago shunned him.

Mr. Chalabi tomorrow will meet with Secretary of State Rice, who was chosen by President Bush in part to steer American diplomacy in the direction of his policy. Some Democrats on Capitol Hill, meanwhile, are making a last-ditch effort to revive charges that Mr. Chalabi was largely responsible for intelligence that the same Democrats now claim allowed the White House to deceive the American people to support a war on specious grounds.

In some ways, the meeting at the State Department is an irony. Before the war, the State Department fought to limit the scope of Mr. Chalabi's information collection program and to prevent money from being spent inside Iraq. That program ostensibly collected the intelligence that so many of Mr. Chalabi's critics now claim hyped the case for the Iraq war.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence this month is expected to release the second phase of a report on pre-war intelligence that, among other things, will examine what the information collection program of Mr. Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress provided to the Defense Department. The report's release follows an unusual decision last week by Senate Democrats to call for a closed-door session of Congress to air their concerns that the report has been suppressed, a claim the chairman of the committee, Senator Roberts, a Republican of Kansas, has denied.

While in Washington, Mr. Chalabi is scheduled to meet with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, where is expected to make the case that Iraq needs to train more troops on American soil. For now, however, Mr. Chalabi is not expected to push for a "status-of-forces agreement" that would lay out the terms under which American soldiers and security contractors can stay in the country. Mr. Chalabi in 2004 asked a Washington law firm to investigate possible parameters for such an agreement for Iraq.

Mr. Chalabi will also meet with Treasury Secretary Snow, who first extended an invitation to the deputy prime minister in October. The invitation thanked Mr. Chalabi for introducing language in the Iraqi Constitution that would require the government to distribute Iraq's oil revenues to its citizens.

"We are strategic friends with the United States: Dr. Chalabi made this clear even from Iran," a spokesman for the deputy prime minister, Entifadh Qanbar, said. Mr. Chalabi visited Tehran over the weekend, where he met with President Ahmadinejad, who has attracted international censure after pledging last month to "wipe Israel off the map."

"Dr. Chalabi is not a mediator between the United States and Iran," Mr. Qanbar said. "They are both sovereign countries. We don't want the conflict between them to take part inside Iraq. We also respect our neighborhood, we want a peaceful relationship with Iran, we don't want them to interfere in our internal affairs."

Mr. Chalabi's effort to smooth relations with the Bush administration represents a full circle for the politician and former mathematician. While he enjoyed good relations with the Pentagon in particular before the war, his relationship with the White House soured in 2004 following comments attributed to him in February of that year boasting that he and his associates were "heroes in error." The quote caught the attention of the president, and soon after, the national security council - then under the leadership of Ms. Rice - drafted a directive to government agencies to launch a campaign to discredit him.

In May 2004, American contractors and Iraqi security offices raided his offices, smashing his family Koran, as part of a probe that alleged his associates strong-armed bureaucrats at the Finance Ministry and stole government cars. At the time, Mr. Chalabi blasted what he called an occupation and told the cameras: "Let my people go."

At the time of the raid, CBS News broke a story that claimed Mr. Chalabi provided Iran with the knowledge that one of its military communication channels had been broken by the National Security Agency. Mr. Chalabi himself has offered to appear before Congress to deny the charges, and his lawyers have submitted letters of protest to both the FBI and the CIA. "We wrote two letters, one to head of CIA and FBI, offering help and support and cooperation. We have never heard a response to this," Mr. Qanbar said yesterday.

Mr. Chalabi ended up being excluded from the interim government selected by the United Nations and the coalition provisional authority in June 2004, and the monthly stipend for his intelligence work from the Pentagon stopped as well.

While in Iraq's political wilderness, Mr. Chalabi formed the Shiite Political Council and allied himself with Shiite Arab politicians and parties such as Moqtada al-Sadr and the Dawa Party, a group with close ties to Iran. He played a role in helping form the United Iraqi Alliance, which brought together mostly Shiite politicians and won the majority in the transitional assembly in January's elections. In February of this year, he made a brief run to be Iraq's prime minister but was ultimately selected as one of three deputy prime ministers. He now controls the transitional assembly's powerful contracts committee.

Last month, Mr. Chalabi announced he would run on his own ticket in December's elections, separate from the religious parties that now control the government in Baghdad. READ MORE