Apr 2nd, 2003, 12:38 AM
I've only done a quick search on this guy, but everything I've turned up seems consistent -- the Guardian's story seems entirely plausible. See the mention of the State Department, CIA, Cheney, Rumsfeld etc. below. From the National Review.
June 20, 2002, 9:00 a.m.
The controversy over Ahmad Chalabi.
By Max Singer
hile much attention is paid to the consensus in Washington that Saddam Hussein must be replaced, the debate over his successor has largely been hidden.
Yet the question of who would replace Saddam is a critical component of U.S. strategy, both with respect to how Saddam should be ousted and the American vision for the Middle East.
The debate over who should succeed Saddam begins with Ahmad Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi opposition movement, the Iraqi National Congress (INC). People who know him well think he has the potential to be one of the great Arab leaders of this century. But there are widely divergent judgments about Chalabi among senior American policymakers and among those counted as experts on the Middle East.
The State Department, Central Intelligence Agency, and the experts associated with them believe that Chalabi is a small-time opportunist and playboy trying to use his position in the INC to make something for himself.
They recognize that he is intelligent and charming, but believe that he is of dubious integrity and without the qualities required for leadership and respect in the Arab world, or the strength to lead either a revolution or a new government. A prominent exception to this pattern is James Woolsey, who was the director of the CIA part of the time it was helping the INC, and does not share these negative views.
But first, the undisputed facts. Chalabi is from one of the old powerful and wealthy Baghdadi families which were forced into exile when the Baath Party seized power in 1958. He studied at MIT and then earned a doctorate in mathematics from the University of Chicago in 1969. Rejecting opportunities at American universities, he returned to the Arab world to teach mathematics at the American University in Beirut, where he met his wife, the daughter of one of the signers of the Lebanese declaration of independence.
Chalabi is a modern man of the West, who founded a successful software company in London and who understands democracy deep in his bones. What makes him truly exceptional is that he also continues to be deeply a man of the East, with the sensibilities and loyalties of his ancient Baghdad Arab and Muslim roots. Because of the family connections that still count for so much in the Middle East, he is comfortable negotiating with Sunni tribal sheikhs and Shia ayatollahs, familiar with the patterns of relationships that go back generations and form the structure of Iraqi and Arab politics.
In 1978 he opened the Petra bank in Amman, Jordan, in which he invested much of his capital and which was very successful until it was seized by the Jordanian government in 1989. The State Department and the CIA often say Chalabi's bank was seized because he had improperly diverted assets, and note the Jordanian government claim that Chalabi was wanted for questioning and that the bank failed some time after it was seized.
On closer examination, however, the story of Chalabi's supposed Jordanian scandal does not hold water. Those familiar with the facts say the bank was seized because Chalabi had been using its international connections to obstruct Iraq's efforts to finance its war with Iran. As a result, Saddam put pressure on Jordan's King Hussein to close the bank. This view is consistent with the official report of the Jordanian officer assigned to seize the bank, the fact that much of the money lost was Chalabi's own, that it was Crown Prince Hassan who protected Chalabi by personally driving him to the border when the bank was seized, that King Hussein held four friendly public meetings with Chalabi (the last in 1998), and that the king subsequently worked to restore Chalabi's position in Jordan.
It is likely that the best-informed people at the State Department and CIA know better, and yet find it useful not to debunk the anti-Chalabi story. We must look elsewhere, then, to discern the real reason for the bureaucratic antipathy to Chalabi.
After the Gulf War the CIA was trying to arrange a coup against Saddam by Iraqi generals in Saddam's inner circle. They believed that such a coup would become more likely if there were a small domestic political opposition movement which might be a reason or an excuse for the generals to remove Saddam. The CIA had already created an opposition organization called the Wifaq that they controlled and which was composed of former Iraqi military officers and former Baathist Party leaders. They recognized, however, that the Wifaq lacked political credibility and so they offered to help Chalabi create a new organization called the "Iraqi National Congress." The agency thought Chalabi would create a small and tame propaganda organization that would not cause too much trouble, but Chalabi created a genuinely representative Iraqi political organization that was independent and that decided it wanted to fight to overthrow both Saddam and his whole regime.
With support from the CIA and more than $10 million of his own and his family's money, Chalabi's INC created an open political opposition movement in northern Iraq from 1993-1996, operating newspapers, radio stations, and a lively political process involving Iraqis from all parts of the country. It also created a small military force that succeeded — with help from one of the Kurdish militias — in attacking and destroying two divisions of the Iraqi army.
Despite later loose charges to the contrary, the money received by the INC from the U.S. was well-accounted for and spent with extraordinary efficiency, greatly impressing many Congressional visitors who came to see for themselves, and making some of the Americans brought by the CIA to work with the INC among the most loyal of Chalabi's supporters to this day.
It is a mark of Chalabi's character that he has gained such a large band of volunteer advisers and supporters not only among Iraqis but also in England and the US. And despite being as fractious a group as any set of exile political figures, and quite diverse, the Iraqis who have joined the INC have continued to keep Chalabi as their clear leader despite the year-long effort of the State Department to find an alternative under the cover of "broadening and unifying the opposition."
Chalabi's admirers today also include leading academic experts on the Middle East who have known him well for many years, such as Fouad Ajami, a Lebanese Arab who is the author of the much-admired book The Dream Palace of the Arabs, and Bernard Lewis, probably the premier scholar of Islam in the world. A number of U.S. senators have also come to know him, including Joseph Lieberman and Trent Lott.
Vice President Richard Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz all know from their personal contact with Chalabi — and their own checks of his background — that the State/CIA view of him as a small-time exile opportunist of shady character is wrong. They believe, on the contrary, that Chalabi is a man who has the character, vision, and strength needed to become an outstanding leader who can help move the Arab world away from the path of anti-American and backward-looking tyranny and toward a path of struggle toward modernity and democracy. If their assessment of him is sound, Chalabi could be the key figure in the success of President George W. Bush's new policy against terrorism, tyranny and threats of biological and nuclear war.
Differences of emphasis and nuance in the judgment about key facts and personalities are natural, but the gap in understanding between State and CIA on one side and Chalabi's admirers on the other is impossibly wide.
One side or the other must have the facts wrong. And the question of which group is correct about Chalabi is crucial for U.S. policy. Bush should do whatever he needs to do to decide who is right and to make a policy decision about whether the U.S. is going to support Chalabi. We cannot afford to take the chance of sacrificing such a decisively valuable potential partner out of reluctance to come to grips with an uncertainty, especially one that seems to be the product of bureaucratic enmities and Saudi fears of what would happen if a great Arab democrat came to power nearby.
— Max Singer is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University.