CHALABI STANDS BY FAULTY INTELLIGENCE THAT TOPPLED SADDAM'S REGIME
By Jack Fairweather and Anton La Guardia
February 19, 2004
BAGHDAD -- An Iraqi leader accused of feeding faulty pre-war intelligence to Washington said yesterday his information about Saddam Hussein's weapons, even if discredited, had achieved the aim of persuading America to topple the dictator.
Ahmad Chalabi and his London-based exile group, the Iraqi National Congress, for years provided a conduit for Iraqi defectors who were debriefed by US intelligence agents. But many American officials now blame Mr Chalabi for providing intelligence that turned out to be false or wild exaggerations about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
Mr Chalabi, by far the most effective anti-Saddam lobbyist in Washington, shrugged off charges that he had deliberately misled US intelligence. "We are heroes in error," he told the Telegraph in Baghdad.
"As far as we're concerned we've been entirely successful. That tyrant Saddam is gone and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important. The Bush administration is looking for a scapegoat. We're ready to fall on our swords if he wants."
His comments are likely to inflame the debate on both sides of the Atlantic over the quality of pre-war intelligence, and the spin put on it by President George W Bush and Tony Blair as they argued for military action.
US officials said last week that one of the most celebrated pieces of false intelligence, the claim that Saddam Hussein had mobile biological weapons laboratories, had come from a major in the Iraqi intelligence service made available by the INC.
US officials at first found the information credible and the defector passed a lie-detector test. But in later interviews it became apparent that he was stretching the truth and had been "coached by the INC".
He failed a second polygraph test and in May 2002, intelligence agencies were warned that the information was unreliable.
But analysts missed the warning, and the mobile laboratory story remained firmly established in the catalogue of alleged Iraqi violations until months after the overthrow of Saddam.
America claimed to have found two mobile laboratories, but the lorries in fact held equipment to make hydrogen for weather balloons.
Last week, US State Department officials admitted that much of the first-hand testimony they had received was "shaky".
"What the INC told us formed one part of the intelligence picture," a senior official in Baghdad said. "But what Chalabi told us we accepted in good faith. Now there is going to be a lot of question marks over his motives."
Mr Chalabi is now a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, but his star in Washington has waned.