Los Angeles Times
June 4, 2004
U.S. Only Wounded Itself When It Betrayed Chalabi
By Danielle Pletka

The recent reports detailing the alleged perfidy of Ahmad Chalabi actually
say much more about his accusers in the U.S. government than they do about
Chalabi himself. They reveal Washington as a faithless friend and its
agencies as more concerned with carrying out vendettas than with pursuing
the real enemies of the United States.

But that is starting at the end of the story. The beginning is far
different: Once, in the early 1990s, Chalabi was a trusted associate of the
Central Intelligence Agency, the key player in a unsuccessful coup to
overthrow Saddam Hussein and, as head of the Iraqi National Congress, one of
the few effective Iraqi politicians in exile. Later, abandoned by the CIA,
Chalabi was supported, albeit reluctantly, by the State Department.

Today, however, Chalabi is being accused by unnamed administration officials
of a laundry list of treachery, including revealing classified information
to the government of Iran. From CIA co-conspirator to traitor in a few short
years appears to be a stunning fall from grace. But, in this case,
appearances are deceiving. The truth is that those who are now accusing him
are the same people who have viewed him as an enemy for many years. They are
the people inside our government - at State, in the CIA and elsewhere - who
oppose the administration's policy in Iraq and who see Chalabi as its

Chalabi himself never changed. He was very consistent: He wanted the
overthrow of Hussein. When the CIA dumped him, he went to Congress; when
Congress lost interest, he went to the Pentagon. He has never taken no for
an answer, never accepted the premise that it was better to accept a tyrant
in Iraq than risk destabilizing the Middle East. In so doing, he earned
himself the undying hostility of a variety of powerful Washington players.

Throughout the 1990s, Chalabi was regularly accused of malfeasance by his
enemies. He was convicted in absentia in Jordan of embezzling funds from the
bank he ran. Those charges have never been documented.

Then State Department officials accused his organization of playing loose
with U.S. money. In every instance he was exonerated by the department's own
inspector general.

The latest charges have been dizzying. The Iraqi National Congress has been
accused of providing bad intelligence on weapons of mass destruction. INC
officials in Iraq are being investigated for a variety of crimes. Chalabi
himself, according to unnamed sources, was supposedly obstructing an
investigation of the United Nations oil-for-food program. And now he is
accused of spying for Iran.

But the charges don't ring true. Wasn't Chalabi, as chairman of the Iraqi
Governing Council's finance committee, the moving force behind the
oil-for-food investigation? (Yes, he was.) And since when is it the job of
intelligence sources to vet the information they pass to the U.S.? Isn't
that the CIA's brief?

Of all the charges, passing secrets to Iran is the most serious. It is
gravest, obviously, for the American who supposedly told Chalabi that we had
broken Iranian codes. That person is governed by U.S. laws, and if he
exists, he should be prosecuted.

Chalabi, on the other hand, is a foreigner and owes us no fealty (although
it is worth noting that he denies the charges). That he has been close to
the Iranians has been well known for years; the United States even paid for
his offices in Tehran. So there's no great surprise there.

But when you think about it, why would he pass secrets to Iranian
intelligence in Baghdad? Why would that station chief then use the very
codes Chalabi told him were compromised to pass the news back home? And why
would we openly break with Chalabi unless we wished to confirm to the
Iranians that the codes had indeed been compromised? It makes no sense.
In the end, little of this storm over Chalabi will matter to the man
himself. As a target of American harassment, he has renewed his credibility
in the eyes of his people. Rather, it is upon itself that the United States
has inflicted a terrible wound.

There were all too few Iraqis who were willing to risk life and limb to
topple Hussein; and there were even fewer who believed in Western democratic
values. Chalabi was one. As we search the region for others who will help us
spread democracy and help us rid the Middle East of its many kings and
presidents-for-life, we will discover that the word has spread: The United
States is a faithless friend.

Danielle Pletka is vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at
the American Enterprise Institute.

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