Release date: 5/21/04
Yesterday's early-morning raid on the home and office of Iraqinational Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi in Baghdad sends "the wrongmessage" to America's would-be allies in the Arab world, formerPentagon official Michael Rubin tells Insight. "This is a huge blowto America's prestige. The message we've just sent is that we do notstand by our allies, that the United States can't be trusted. We'vejust told Arab liberals and democrats that it's just plain crazy towork with America."
Rubin, who served as an aid to Deputy Undersecretary of DefenseWilliam Luti, spoke with Sunni clerics, Shiite professionals, andindependent Kurdish businessmen in Iraq in the hours immediatelyafter the Baghdad raid. "Everyone in Iraq believes that because ofU.S. actions, we are now heading for civil war. We have snatcheddefeat from the jaws of victory."
Deeply involved in planning for the Iraq war, Rubin tells Insightthat he left government in April out of a sense of frustration. "Thisadministration has been taking so many hits, many of them based onoutright fabrications or on information from 'anonymous intelligencesources,' that I felt I could be more effective on the outside," hesays. Rubin now is a Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute inWashington.
Francis Brooke, an American aid to Chalabi who was at Chalabi's homein Baghdad when Iraqi troops supported by 25 U.S. military policemenand "an SUV full of OGA guys" - an acronym commonly used in Baghdadto designate the CIA ("other government agencies") - stormed thehouse. Chalabi was awakened by four armed men pointing guns at him."I myself stood for an hour with an American military person pointinga gun at my chest," Brooke told Insight by phone from Baghdad. "Itwas totally misplaced."
The raids were carefully orchestrated and appeared part of an effortto embarrass Chalabi. "They had TV cameras across the street," Brookesays. "They were hoping to lead out a bunch of guys in handcuffs, butthey didn't find anybody they were looking for." Instead, they seizedcomputers, documents relating to the Iraqi National Council's (INC's)investigation of the U.N. oil-for-food scandal, a family Koran and aset of prayer beads.
A spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Baghdadinsisted in a telephone interview with Insight that the raid was notthe work of the CPA, but had been ordered by an independent Iraqijudge. "They wanted six or seven people for questioning," thespokesman said. "I can't tell you their names - I can't even get oneArab name straight."
American news reports on Friday gave several variants of the allegedcharges against the Chalabi aids, ranging from corruption, fraud,vehicle theft, to intimidation and blackmail. But INC sources andRubin believe there is no doubt that U.S. civil administrator L. PaulBremer ordered the raid. "The decision to 'cut Chalabi down to size'was taken in Washington," Rubin said, "but the operation againstChalabi originated in Baghdad. There is no doubt that Bremer signedoff on this. Basically, Bremer has gone mad. This raid shows the U.S.has not learned the lessons of Abu Ghraib, and is still trying tohumiliate" perceived opponents.
At a press conference in Baghdad after the raids, Chalabi identifiedone of the individuals allegedly being sought as Aras Habib, hislong-time security and intelligence chief. Before the U.S.-ledinvasion, Mr. Habib ran the INC's network of informants withinSaddam's regime and identified defectors the INC ultimately helped toescape Iraq. Chalabi's detractors claim that the intelligenceprovided by those defectors relating to Iraqi Weapons of MassDestruction (WMD) programs was false or fabricated. But in fact, saysRubin, the INC provided intelligence and human sources at a time whenthe CIA has no assets inside Iraq at all. "The CIA hates Chalabibecause he comes out with information they do not have and that latergets confirmed," Rubin says.
Insight worked with Mr. Habib on several occasions before theU.S.-led invasion of Iraq while reporting stories involving Saddam'sWMD programs, and consistently found him to be reliable, providingdocuments and sources not connected to the INC, allowing independentverification of the INC allegations [see"Eurobiz IsCaught Arming Saddam,"posted Feb 4, 2003, and "HowSaddam Got Weapons of MassDestruction," posted Sept.30, 2002].
Chalabi also has alienated the State Department, which has taken itscue from neighboring Arab governments which are seeking to put an endto the experiment in democracy in Iraq and replace the IraqiGoverning Council with a new Arab strongman, Rubin and othersbelieve. "While Americans tend to overlook family relations, Iraqisdo not," Rubin says. "[UN Special Envoy Lakhdar] Brahimi'sdaughter is engaged to Prince Ali of Jordan, the brother of KingAbdullah." Not only do Iraqis see Brahimi as partial to Jordan, butmany feel he is hostile to Iraqi Shias and Kurds.
The first time Brahimi met with the Governing Council, an Iraqisource tells Insight, he said he came not just as the U.N. envoy, butas a "brother Arab." Brahimi's words "sent chills" down the spines ofthe Shia and Kurdish members of the councilmen.
Since the insurgency began last summer, Mr. Habib and the INC haveprovided invaluable intelligence to the United States "that has savedAmerican lives," says INC spokesman, Entifad Qanbar. Rubin agreeswith that assessment. "The most virulent hatred of Chalabi comes fromthose who have never met him," he says. "Defense Intelligence Agency[DIA] and U.S. military commanders in Iraq who have workedwith the INC have given them stellar reviews. They have used INCintelligence to stop operations by insurgents that were targetingAmericans. They have caught insurgents red-handed because ofinformation provided by Chalabi. [Secretary of State Colin]Powell and [Deputy Secretary of State Richard] Armitageappear to place greater value on winning bureaucratic battles inWashington than in saving American lives in Iraq."
The most extravagant allegation against Chalabi was launched onThursday evening by Dan Rather and 60 Minutes correspondent LeslieStahl on the CBS Evening News. In what Rather portrayed as an"exclusive report," CBS claimed that U.S. intelligence operativeswere seeking to arrest Chalabi because he had delivered "top secretU.S. intelligence" to the Islamic Republic of Iran." The intelligencewas so sensitive, Rather ventilated, that it could "get Americanskilled."
The CBS allegation, which Rather and Stahl said they had learned from"senior U.S. intelligence officials" they refused to name, soundedserious, but it turned out to be a word-for-word repeat of an earlierreport that appeared in Newsweek that also quoted anonymous U.S.intelligence officials. CBS did not credit Newsweek with the alleged"leak."
One of the "former U.S. intelligence officials" who frequently feedsthe media with false allegations about Chalabi actually has a name.He is Pat Lang, a former DIA Middle East analyst, who sometimesappears on air as a CBS News consultant.
Lang was quoted by Washington Post reporter Robin Wright in herfront-page story on the raids that appeared on Friday, disparagingthe intelligence Chalabi's group had provided the United Statesbefore the war. "Now it's demonstrable that [Chalabi] toldthe U.S. government a lot of things that were not true," Langsaid.
In citing Lang as an expert on Iraq, neither CBS nor the WashingtonPost ever has mentioned that Lang has registered with the JusticeDepartment as a foreign agent for an Arab government. "How cansomebody working for an Arab government parade about as a neutralanalyst?" says Rubin.
Chalabi has never denied his many visits to Iran or his meeting withhigh Iranian government officials. Before the U.S.-led invasion,Chalabi and top INC officials had to travel through Iran to reachIraq because Turkey had closed its borders to INC operatives."Actually, if truth be told, I think Ahmed has actually used theIranians for our benefit," a key Chalabi supporter tells Insight.Chalabi appears to have been instrumental in getting the Iraniangovernment to drop its support for radical Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr,several sources tell .
But in Washington, where no good deed goes unpunished, Ahmed Chalabiis paying dearly for those efforts.
Kenneth R. Timmerman is asenior writer for Insight.
Kenneth R. Timmerman is a seniorwriter for Insight and author of TheFrench Betrayal of America,just released from Crown Forum.