Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Chalabi

So many of the administration’s real mistakes in prosecuting the war in Iraq – not the moronic litany which constantly appears in the “mainstream” press, few elements of which were even mistakes at all – are intimately bound up with the efforts of anonymous, vindictive, and incompetent State Department and CIA analysts and operatives who tried every way short of assassination to discredit or eliminate Ahmed Chalabi, that you absolutely must read Robert L. Pollock’s “The Chalabi Comeback” in Opinion Journal. His discussion only hints at a few of the most salient errors, often indirectly or implicitly, but highlights just enough to be of significant interest.
One of the most portentous mistakes was the failure to follow through on early plans to invade in conjunction with a substantial trained complement of Iraqi volunteers, a national liberation force, which could have immediately put an Iraqi face on what became instead “the occupation.” (This force did not have to play a role of any more significance than De Gaulle’s Free French did in the liberation of France. Their importance was far more symbolic, and political, than military.) This option was derided by CIA and State Department opponents of the Iraqi exiles who disparaged their competence and hinted darkly that they were corrupted and compromised. The squishes won, with unfortunate consequences which should now be apparent to all. Nevertheless, Chalabi, “the master coalition-builder crafted the Shiite-led United Iraqi Alliance that shocked our spooks and diplomats by dominating the January election. The other big winners – Shiite religious leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, and Kurdish leaders Talabani and Massoud Barzani – turned out to be the very same group Mr. Chalabi had united under the banner of his Iraqi National Congress in the '90s, and which had widely been written off as ‘exiles.’ Mr. Chalabi had enough support to make a credible bid for the prime minister’s post, only to drop out in the face of strong U.S.-Iranian lobbying . . . for the Islamist, Ibrahim al-Jafaari, who has proven to be an ineffectual leader at best.”
As for the question of corruption, “the biggest alleged thieves in post-Saddam Iraq have turned out to be those associated with the CIA’s preferred secular Shiite, Mr. Allawi.
“The Iraqi Board of Supreme Audit recently charged that Mr. Allawi’s defense minister, Hazem Shalaan, presided over the misappropriation of hundreds of millions of dollars that could have gone towards better-equipped security forces. Virtually everyone I spoke to at the Iraqi Ministry of Defense confirmed this, including the new minister, Saddoun Dulaimi (an honest man by everyone’s account, and a non-Baathist Sunni to boot). But corruption on the scale suggested by the Audit Board should be more difficult now that Mr. Chalabi is chairing a Contracts Committee, which reviews every government expenditure above a certain threshold.”
Pollock is frequently too polite to call a spade a spade. When he characterizes the ludicrous leaks – credulously accepted by the “mainstream” media – asserting that Chalabi had ratted out the NSA to Tehran as having broken key Iranian codes, and further claiming that this fact was discovered when the Iranians used that same broken code to report Chalabi’s information (!), Pollack refers blandly to “improbable allegations that he somehow obtained and then passed sensitive U.S. information to Iran (another anonymously sourced story Newsweek really ought to revisit).” But he strikes home when he succinctly observes that one price of marginalizing Chalabi was that it entailed “the shutdown of an INC operation called the Information Collection Program, which Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard Myers testified before Congress had ‘saved American lives.’ A military review had concluded that the INC provided the U.S. with far more actionable intelligence than any other Iraqi organization, including the Kurdish militias.” How many lives were lost to CIA CYA, stupidity and vindictiveness?
As for the present, Pollock’s summary is on-the-mark. “The more important story, the real determinant of whether Iraq stands or falls, is the political one. And a key player is a man countless powerful people around the world have wished would go away. Of course, there are no ‘indispensable men’ – De Gaulle famously remarked that the graveyards are full of them – but Mr. Chalabi is as close as you come among Iraq’s political class. He sees the powerful Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani regularly; he is trusted by the Kurds, and, to the extent anyone is, by Sadr; and he put forth a constitutional oil-sharing proposal that has a chance of making federalism acceptable to the Sunnis. It is telling that he was one of the last people huddled with Zalmay Khalilzad in the wee hours of Saturday, when the U.S. ambassador finally gave the go-ahead to announce an agreement. Mr. Khalilzad, who has now brokered constitutions for 50 million newly free people in two countries – and who deserves a medal for his efforts – is a man who knows who to have by his side when a deal has to get done.
“The question now is whether his bosses in Washington are mature enough to put aside past mistakes and work with Mr. Chalabi. They certainly no longer have to worry about him being written off as an American puppet.”

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