Insight on the News - World
May 11, 2004
In a breathless hatchet job, the left-wing Internet magazine Salon.com has joined a relentless campaign to vilify Iraqi Governing Council member Dr. Ahmed Chalabi, a favorite of neocons and many members of Congress. In an article released on May 4, Salon writer John Dizard alleges that Chalabi made false promises to his U.S. supporters, delivered fake intelligence, and more recently worked behind the back of U.S. intelligence in Iraq to allow agents of the Islamic Republic of Iran to organize Iraqi Shiites against the U.S. occupation.
allegations would be devastating if they were true. But a key source
Dizard names in his article not only denies the quotes attributed to
him by Dizard, but claims in a letter sent last week to Salon the day
after the article appeared that Dizard had misrepresented himself.
"Indeed, at no time did I ever consent to be interviewed by Mr.
Dizhart [sic] for the article in question or any other
article," attorney L. Marc Zell writes. "None of the quotations
ascribed to me was made by me and I categorically disavow each of
them. I have never met with Mr. Ahmed Chalabi nor have I ever held
any discussions with him. I have no personal knowledge of his past or
present dealings, other than what I myself read in the international
and national press. Moreover, I have never met with a Mr. Dizhart,
although I did speak by cell phone on a few occasions with a reporter
for the Financial Times by that name about doing business in Iraq."
Dizhart (Dizard) never mentioned Salon or that he was profiling
Chalabi, Zell added.
Zell is not just any attorney; he is the law partner of Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Doug Feith, a strong Chalabi supporter. Their law firm, Feith and Zell, has represented the government of Turkey, and helped aerospace giant Loral Aerospace conduct an internal security review in 1996, after several Loral engineers were accused by the company's own security board of illegally transferring classified U.S. ballistic-missile technology to Communist China.
Dizard pumped Zell's alleged comments as part of his assault on Chalabi's credibility, honesty and reputation: "While Zell's disaffection with Chalabi has been a long time in the making, his remarks to Salon represent his first public break with the would-be Iraqi leader, and are likely to ripple throughout Washington in the days to come." Instead, as Zell's disavowal of Dizard shows, the only thing that ought to be "rippling" through Washington is the revelation that a Salon.com reporter has been fabricating quotes, a firing offense for any reputable publication [see "The Crumbling of the Fourth Estate," posted May 5].
But while Dizard may have attributed his own opinions to Zell, he also recycled a series of allegations against Chalabi that have been carefully planted by high-ranking officials at the CIA and the State Department during the last eight years as part of an orchestrated smear campaign aimed at destroying his credibility as a pro-democracy leader in Iraq.
For years, high-ranking U.S. officials have been whispering to reporters that Chalabi was "unreliable." They claimed the intelligence his Iraqi National Congress (INC) operatives were bringing back from inside Saddam Hussein's regime was cooked, the defectors he presented from inside Saddam's weapons establishments were fakes, and his claims to have found widespread support for a popular uprising against Saddam were unrealistic. Or so they said.
Before the coalition invasion of March 2003, both the CIA and the State Department had placed all their bets on sparking a coup within Saddam's ruling Ba'ath Party. "One of the problems with a coup," former Pentagon adviser Richard Perle told Insight shortly before the war began last year, "is that it entails by definition a group of people who are close to Saddam. If their motive for acting against Saddam is to assume the reins and carry out the same policies, then a coup would be a very bad thing indeed." And yet, that is the policy establishment liberals at both State and the CIA were supporting.
The smear of record that State and the CIA have been pushing about Chalabi for years alleges his involvement in running the ill-fated Petra Bank in Jordan. "Chalabi is a convicted felon," they tell reporters, by way of explaining why the United States should not rely on him. The charge is true as far as it goes. But the way Chalabi became a convicted felon in a kangaroo court in Jordan clearly suggests that the embezzlement case mounted against him was a three-dollar bill.
The Petra Bank was closed by the Jordanian military in August 1989 when Iraqi government agents - who included the former head of Jordan's military intelligence, now the premier, and the head of Jordan's Central Bank - ordered Jordanian tanks to surround the bank. Orders were given to freeze the bank's assets and jail its directors. Chalabi narrowly escaped arrest, fleeing the country in the car of Crown Prince Hassan, King Hussein's younger brother. Hassan has remained loyal to Chalabi ever since.
The Iraqis were worried that Chalabi had penetrated their overseas banking and procurement network, and wanted his operations shut down once and for all. Adding to their paranoia, a U.S. government task force raided Iraq's top financial backer in the United States, the Atlanta branch of the Banca Nazionale del Lavorro, at virtually the same time.
Since 1992, when Chalabi was convicted in absentia in a state security court in Jordan, he has continued to travel freely around the world. Jordan never has asked for Chalabi's extradition from Britain, the United States, Turkey or Saudi Arabia, through Interpol or through a government-to-government request.
In recent weeks, Chalabi has been trying to convince the Jordanian authorities to turn over documents that would prove his innocence in the bank scandal and lay to rest the allegation of corruption, Insight has learned from a source close to the Iraqi leader. "If they do not comply with this request, then Dr. Chalabi will file a massive lawsuit against the government of Jordan for defamation," said the source, who recently returned to Europe from Baghdad.
But if the "convicted felon" slander has fallen flat, "senior officials at the Central Intelligence Agency" who have acknowledged they were hostile to Chalabi, tossed a series of new allegations to a Newsweek reporter last week. "U.S. officials say that electronic intercepts of discussions between Iranian leaders indicate that Chalabi and his entourage told Iranian contacts about American political plans in Iraq," Newsweek revealed.
A Chalabi aide to whom this reporter read that passage simply shrugged: "Of course he discussed America's political plans in Iraq! So was everybody else discussing it, starting with the New York Times." According to one conveniently unnamed government source cited by Newsweek, some of the information Chalabi allegedly gave the Iranians "could get people killed."
INC spokesman Entifad Qanbar countered, "We protect American lives every day. This is just part of the witch-hunt against Chalabi."
Kamran Makiya, an Iraqi intellectual who frequently has crossed swords with Chalabi, explained just weeks after the liberation last year why the State Department was thwarting efforts to establish a new governing council. "State wants to appease those people that they have long experience with," he told Insight at the time. "The nature of the State Department is to make people happy. I am not in the business of making Arab governments happy. Nor should any self-respecting Iraqi government be." The main State Department goal, he went on, was to ensure that whatever government emerged in Iraq after the liberation would not "offend" or "challenge" Saudi Arabia, by setting a strong example of democratic self-government.
The State Department's current plan has transferred political authority in Iraq from the Coalition Provisional Authority and Paul Bremer to U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, an Algerian Sunni who wants nothing to do with Chalabi or his supporters but is very close to the Saudi government. As several sources knowledgeable of the meeting tell Insight, the first thing Brahimi said when he met with the Governing Council was that he came not just as a United Nations envoy, but as "a brother Arab."
As Qanbar puts it, "Brahimi does not want to see Ahmed Chalabi or any of his supporters in the new Iraqi political establishment. Instead of de-Ba'athification, he wants de-Chalabization."
Kenneth R. Timmerman is a senior writer for Insight Online.
Kenneth R. Timmerman is a senior writer for Insight and author of The French Betrayal of America, just released from Crown Forum.