Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 20, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

THE END OF CHALABI?....I think we can safely say that the love affair between the United States and Ahmed Chalabi is finally over:

U.S. soldiers and Iraqi police on Thursday raided the home of Ahmad Chalabi, a Governing Council member who was once the Pentagon's pick to run post-war Iraq, and two office buildings used by his Iraqi National Congress.

....Hours after the morning raids, a U.S. official and an Iraqi judge disclosed to reporters that arrest warrants had been issued for 15 people on charges of kidnapping, fraud, and "associated matters."

....For several months, U.S. officials have been investigating people affiliated with Chalabi's INC and possible ties to a scheme to defraud the Iraqi government during the currency exchange that took place from Oct. 15 to Jan. 15, according to three U.S. officials who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.

When auditors early this year began counting the old Iraqi dinars brought in and the new Iraqi dinars given out, they discovered that there was a $22 million-plus difference.

They raided his home, kicked down his doors, smashed his portrait (!), and hauled away a dozen computers. I guess it goes without saying that Chalabi was none too happy about this.

The odd thing is that Chalabi is claiming that this is all because the United States is unhappy with his investigations into the UN's oil-for-food program. I'm not up to speed on all the details of this, but here's the nickel version:

  • For some reason, the U.S. allowed Chalabi to take over the old Iraqi intelligence ministry after the war. So Chalabi has in his possession rooms full of Saddam-era intel documents.

  • Chalabi's people have been combing through these papers and claim to have evidence that the oil-for-food program was corrupt. Among other things, Saddam sold the oil to favored partners who agreed to kick back money directly to him.

  • Chalabi has declined to allow anyone else to see these documents, and the accused naturally deny any wrongdoing. Unsurprisingly, the investigation has not made swift progress under these conditions.

  • Chalabi now says the raid is in retaliation for his investigation. It is not entirely clear why the Bush administration is supposedly so eager to halt an investigation into the UN bureaucracy and one that implicates the hated French at that but that's the story. Chalabi is apparently claiming that we are in thrall to UN negotiator Lakhdar Brahimi, who is in charge of figuring out the mechanics of the June 30 handover, and the UN has threatened to leave us hanging unless we shut down Chalabi.

Well, maybe. Who knows in a situation like this? But I wouldn't be willing to risk even a nickel on the possibility that Ahmed Chalabi is telling the truth about anything, so we'll just have to wait and see. It would be nice if the raiding party managed to confiscate some of those oil-for-food documents so we can see for ourselves whether they're for real.

More later, I'm sure. In the meantime (and I really shouldn't have to tell you this), Juan Cole has more background on the whole mess.

Kevin Drum 12:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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