Ahmad Chalabi, the protégé of U.S. neoconservatives before the Iraq war and a principal accomplice in bringing it about, went into eclipse after the information he provided about weapons of mass destruction proved to be untrue. -- As his deceptions unraveled, he seemed to mock those who complained of the bogus intelligence, declaring to an English newspaper in Febryar 2004: "We are heroes in error." -- Most observers wrongly assumed that his fall from grace was definitive after the New York Times reported on June 2, 2004, that U.S. agents had discovered in a decrypted intelligence communiqué from Iran evidence that Ahmad Chalabi had revealed to Iran the U.S.'s possession of the Iranian code. -- At that time, seventeen months ago, the New York Times reported that "civilians at the Pentagon who were among Mr. Chalabi's strongest supporters" were says to be among those the F.B.I. is investigating as possible sources of Chalabi's information, and it may be that Douglas Feith's departure from the Department of Defense was linked to this incident. -- But now Ahmad Chalabi is back, apparently in the good graces of the Bush administration once more. -- Not only is this Houdini of politics, an undoubtedly brilliant man who holds a Ph.D. in mathematics, now a deputy prime minister of Iraq with special responsibility for the oil industry, the Financial Times (UK) reports, but he has formed a "new secular coaltion . . . to contest parliamentary elections on December 15, breaking away from the Shia Islamic alliance that helped propel him into office following last January's polls." -- On Wednesday Chalabi returned in Washington, where he was not only applauded by an audience at the American Enterprise Institute but was welcomed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. -- He also met Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, according to the Financial Times. -- A sense of shame, perhaps, led the administration to exclude cameras from the meetings. -- Confronted with questions from reporters, the Financial Times said Chalabi "denied he had ever passed classified information to Iran, or provided fabricated evidence on WMD to the Bush administration. That was 'an urban myth,' he said, and repeatedly urged reporters to read the Robb-Silberman report which he claimed had exonerated him." -- But it is of revealing that the U.S. had broken Iran's code that he was accused, not passing classified information. -- Reuters said that "A broadly grinning Chalabi was introduced by AEI President Christopher DeMuth, who hailed him as a courageous democratic reformer 'defamed' by unnamed U.S. government agencies," and reported that "He is due to meet Vice President Dick Cheney on Thursday. [NOTE: Is this a second meeting? As just noted, the Financial Times reported the two have already met. --R.T.] Sessions with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Treasury Secretary John Snow are set for next week." ...
Middle East & Africa
CHALABI RECEIVED BY TOP BUSH OFFICIALS
By Guy Dinmore
Financial Times (UK)
WASHINGTON -- Ahmad Chalabi, the former Iraqi exile most closely identified with the U.S. decision to go to war in Iraq, was received on Wednesday at the top of the Bush administration in a sign that the secular politician is perceived once again by Washington as someone to do business with after his spectacular fall from grace last year.
But Democrats in Congress demanded that Mr. Chalabi, now a deputy prime minister with special responsibility for the oil industry, appear before them to answer questions on his role in the pre-war intelligence that was used to justify the invasion. Senators also wanted to know the status of a reported FBI investigation into allegations that Mr. Chalabi passed intelligence to Iran.
For Mr. Chalabi, returning to the Washington limelight for the first time in over two years was a moment to be relished as he stood before television cameras and an applauding audience to address the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).
"Iraq is now at the threshold of a new era," he said, then added: "We are not out of the storm."
Mr. Chalabi introduced members of the new secular coalition he has formed to contest parliamentary elections on December 15, breaking away from the Shia Islamic alliance that helped propel him into office following last January's polls.
Asked if he harbored ambitions to become prime minister, he joked: "That's for me to know and you to find out."
Administration officials, however, were less keen on publicity on Wednesday. In a break with normal practice, cameras were excluded from his meeting with Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state. Mr. Chalabi, a former banker who has been convicted by a court in Jordan, also met Dick Cheney, the vice president, and Stephen Hadley, national security advisor.
Analysts assessed it would be wrong to say that Mr. Chalabi had undergone a wholesale political rehabilitation within the administration.
However, they said, some influential figures in Washington saw Mr. Chalabi as an important secular politician who had cultivated a relationship with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the most influential Shia cleric.
Even before the 2003 invasion, the Bush administration was seriously divided over the merits of backing Mr Chalabi and his fellow exiles.
While he had his mentors in the Pentagon -- who flew him into occupied southern Iraq soon after the invasion -- the State Department had long preferred his rival, Iyad Allawi. And the CIA was suspicious of the sources and defectors produced by Mr. Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress.
According to the Robb-Silberman Commission that looked into U.S. intelligence on weapons of mass destruction, the CIA concluded that two sources provided by the INC had fabricated information about Iraq's alleged mobile biological warfare units and the possible construction of a new nuclear facility.
But the commission also concluded that, according to the CIA's post-war investigations, the "INC-related sources had a minimal impact on pre-war assessments," although some of the erroneous information ended up by mistake in then secretary of state Colin Powell's presentation to the United Nations in February 2003.
Nonetheless, Mr. Chalabi's hosts on Wednesday at AEI, the influential neoconservative policy group, had long backed his cause -- even after the events of early 2004 when the Pentagon stopped funding his party, his Baghdad offices were raided by police with the blessing of Paul Bremer, the U.S. governor, and he was excluded from the caretaker government led by Mr. Allawi after anonymous U.S. officials accused him of spying for Iran.
Peppered with questions by reporters on Wednesday, Mr. Chalabi denied he had ever passed classified information to Iran, or provided fabricated evidence on WMD to the Bush administration. That was "an urban myth" he said, and repeatedly urged reporters to read the Robb-Silberman report which he claimed had exonerated him.
Mr. Chalabi's appearance in Washington, while at the invitation of the Bush administration, has come at a sensitive time, coinciding with the president's slide in opinion polls and renewed calls for probes into the use of pre-war intelligence in the wake of the indictment of the vice president's chief of staff, Lewis Libby, for lying to a special prosecutor.
Explaining the visit of such a controversial politician, Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, commented:
"Deputy Prime Minister Chalabi is one of a number of elected leaders who have visited Washington in recent months, and we believe it's very important to work closely with the Iraqi government and their leaders to advance democracy, build prosperity, and improve security for the Iraqi people."
Adel Abdul Mahdi, an Iraqi vice president, is also in Washington this week.
Senator Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, was incensed with the visit by Mr Chalabi.
"Here we have a man accused of selling secrets to the enemy, to Iran, and endangering American troops, and where do we find Ahmad Chalabi today? He is being hosted and feted by this administration," he said in a speech to the Senate on Tuesday.
Henry Waxman, the senior Democrat on a House subcommittee for national security, called for Mr. Chalabi to answer questions under oath before the House government reform committee which planned to meet privately with him on Wednesday.
Mr. Chalabi told reporters he would be glad to answer questions before Congress, but an associate suggested that this was not likely to happen under oath and in front of cameras.
STILL CONTROVERSIAL CHALABI MEETS TOP U.S. OFFICIALS
By Carol Giacomo
November 10, 2005
WASHINGTON -- Iraqi deputy prime minister Ahmad Chalabi was welcomed on Wednesday by a U.S. administration that once shunned him, sparking denunciations by critics who blame him for discredited pre-war intelligence.
A Bush administration favorite who fell from favor after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Chalabi achieved a kind of political rehabilitation on a high-profile Washington visit that included meetings with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.
He is due to meet Vice President Dick Cheney on Thursday. Sessions with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Treasury Secretary John Snow are set for next week.
Chalabi pushed for the visit ahead of Iraqi elections next month. It has fueled a growing U.S. debate over President George W. Bush's conduct of the Iraq war.
While the visit seems to come at an inopportune time for Bush, U.S. officials insisted they were treating Chalabi just like any other Iraqi elected leader and were eager not to influence the Dec. 15 elections.
Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi, also in Washington this week, saw Rice on Tuesday.
Democratic senators and congressmen insisted Chalabi be held accountable for faulty intelligence that justified a war that has killed more than 2,000 Americans.
They demanded to know why he was meeting top officials after charges he had passed U.S. secrets to Iran -- a U.S. adversary -- and urged congressional intelligence committees to subpoena Chalabi for testimony.
Chalabi, addressing a packed audience at the American Enterprise Institute, said he had offered in 2004 to answer questions before Congress and implied he would still do so.
CHARGES ARE 'URBAN MYTH'
Chalabi again denied allegations he passed U.S. secrets to Iran and said charges he misled Washington with pre-war intelligence on Saddam's weapons of mass were an "urban myth."
"We are sorry for every American life that is lost in Iraq," he said.
AEI, a thinktank with close ties to the administration, has been Chalabi's political ally, backing his campaign to persuade the United States to oust Saddam's regime.
A broadly grinning Chalabi was introduced by AEI President Christopher DeMuth, who hailed him as a courageous democratic reformer "defamed" by unnamed U.S. government agencies.
Seventeen months ago, Rice, then-national security adviser, promised a full criminal inquiry into allegations about Chalabi passing U.S. secrets to Iran.
But while an FBI spokesman said an investigation was underway, Chalabi said he was unaware of any probe.
Two Democrats, Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois and Rep. George Miller of California, asked Senate and House Intelligence Committees to subpoena Chalabi for testimony.
"Here we have a man accused of selling secrets to the enemy, to Iran, and endangering American troops and where do we find Ahmad Chalabi today? He is being hosted and feted by this administration," Durbin told the U.S. Senate on Tuesday.
Although she received Chalabi in her State Department office, Rice did not appear publicly with him, underscoring the political sensitivity of the meeting.
For years as an exile, Chalabi helped organize opposition to Saddam through the U.S.-sponsored Iraqi National Congress.
He was taken into Iraq by American forces as Washington tried to build a new power structure after the 2003 invasion, but soon fell into disfavor.
The wealthy Chalabi has proved a political survivor and while he lacks mass appeal in Iraq, U.S. experts say he could emerge as a possible compromise candidate for prime minister in a coalition government.
Middle East analyst Kenneth Katzman said Chalabi's visit shows key administration officials still believe ousting Saddam was the right thing to do.
Katzman, of the Congressional Research Service, said the visit probably would not earn Chalabi more votes in the Iraqi election but being on good terms with Washington could burnish his credentials in post-election jockeying for prime minister.