Commentary Magazine


Topic: Ahmed Chalabi

Forming a Government in Iraq

Good to see that the de-Baathification campaign has been dropped in Iraq, at least for now. The effort to disqualify parliamentary candidates for supposed Baathist backgrounds was a truly poisonous effort engineered by Iran and executed by the opportunistic Ahmed Chalabi to rig the outcome of the Iraqi election. If it had succeeded in taking away votes from Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiyya slate, the result could have been a major backlash among Sunnis.

Since I have recently been critical of the Obama administration and U.S. diplomatic representatives in Baghdad for not doing more to resolve the post-election crisis, it is only fair to give credit where it is due and note that a behind-the-scenes American effort contributed to this important step forward. But there is much more that needs to be done.

The election results still aren’t certified. Only when that happens will the true jockeying to form a government begin. One of the key questions will be whether Nouri al-Maliki or his chief rival, Ayad Allawi, will get first chance to form a government. Going strictly by the election results, Allawi should get first shot. But Maliki has formed a post-election alliance between his State of Law slate and the Iraqi National Alliance, a group of sectarian Shiites close to Iran that finished a distant third in the balloting. An Iraqi judicial ruling would thus seem to suggest that the newly formed all-Shiite coalition should get first shot at government-formation, even though this would seem to run counter to the intentions of Iraqi voters who gave Allawi’s secular, nationalist slate the most seats.

Odds are that Allawi, a secular Shiite whose primary base of support is among Sunnis, can’t form a government in any case because of Shiite opposition, but it would be good to at least let him try so as to lessen charge of post-election manipulation. There is also serious cause to doubt whether Maliki can engineer a coalition that will keep him in the prime minister’s office. He has made many enemies and few friends among fellow Iraqi politicos, and his new coalition partners, the Sadrists, are adamantly oppose to his continued rule. Odds are that a lesser-known, compromise candidate will ultimately emerge as prime minister — just as Maliki himself came from nowhere to be chosen as prime minister in 2006.

While all this is going on, U.S. troop reductions are slated to continue at a rapid pace, down to just 50,000 soldiers by the end of August, thus lessening American ability to influence the outcome. That, in turn, will place a premium on smart, skillful diplomacy during what promises to be a very trying summer. Iraq has cleared one important hurdle, but many more remain.

Good to see that the de-Baathification campaign has been dropped in Iraq, at least for now. The effort to disqualify parliamentary candidates for supposed Baathist backgrounds was a truly poisonous effort engineered by Iran and executed by the opportunistic Ahmed Chalabi to rig the outcome of the Iraqi election. If it had succeeded in taking away votes from Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiyya slate, the result could have been a major backlash among Sunnis.

Since I have recently been critical of the Obama administration and U.S. diplomatic representatives in Baghdad for not doing more to resolve the post-election crisis, it is only fair to give credit where it is due and note that a behind-the-scenes American effort contributed to this important step forward. But there is much more that needs to be done.

The election results still aren’t certified. Only when that happens will the true jockeying to form a government begin. One of the key questions will be whether Nouri al-Maliki or his chief rival, Ayad Allawi, will get first chance to form a government. Going strictly by the election results, Allawi should get first shot. But Maliki has formed a post-election alliance between his State of Law slate and the Iraqi National Alliance, a group of sectarian Shiites close to Iran that finished a distant third in the balloting. An Iraqi judicial ruling would thus seem to suggest that the newly formed all-Shiite coalition should get first shot at government-formation, even though this would seem to run counter to the intentions of Iraqi voters who gave Allawi’s secular, nationalist slate the most seats.

Odds are that Allawi, a secular Shiite whose primary base of support is among Sunnis, can’t form a government in any case because of Shiite opposition, but it would be good to at least let him try so as to lessen charge of post-election manipulation. There is also serious cause to doubt whether Maliki can engineer a coalition that will keep him in the prime minister’s office. He has made many enemies and few friends among fellow Iraqi politicos, and his new coalition partners, the Sadrists, are adamantly oppose to his continued rule. Odds are that a lesser-known, compromise candidate will ultimately emerge as prime minister — just as Maliki himself came from nowhere to be chosen as prime minister in 2006.

While all this is going on, U.S. troop reductions are slated to continue at a rapid pace, down to just 50,000 soldiers by the end of August, thus lessening American ability to influence the outcome. That, in turn, will place a premium on smart, skillful diplomacy during what promises to be a very trying summer. Iraq has cleared one important hurdle, but many more remain.

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Ahmed Chalabi, Redux

Ahmed Chalabi (remember him?) is back in the news. He is the power behind the de-Baathification Commission, which is wreaking havoc with Iraqi politics by disqualifying secular candidates for supposed Baathist ties. As General Ray Odierno has said, Chalabi and his protégé, Ali Faisal al-Lami, appear to be acting at the behest of the Iranians:

The two Iraqi politicians “clearly are influenced by Iran,” General Odierno said. “We have direct intelligence that tells us that.” He said the two men had several meetings in Iran, including sessions with an Iranian who is on the United States terrorist watch list.

Real Clear World’s Compass blogger Greg Scoblete has responded with a non sequitur headlined “Paging Douglas Feith”:

Many neoconservatives are demanding that the U.S. throw its full weight behind the Iranians in their pursuit of freedom. On the surface, this is obviously a noble idea, but it’s worth remembering that the very people making confident predictions about the predilections of the Iranian people were duped by an Iranian stooge.

In turn Feith, the former Undersecretary of Defense, has weighed in to deny “that Pentagon officials aimed to favor or ‘anoint’ Chalabi as the leader of Iraq after Saddam” or that they were duped by Chalabi before the war.

I think Feith is right on the narrow technical points (the U.S. did not try to install Chalabi as Iraq’s leader and the U.S. intelligence community did not buy all the intel he was peddling) but wrong on the larger issue. There is no doubt that Chalabi had a significant impact on the Washington debate prior to the invasion of Iraq: he was a leading lobbyist for the view that Saddam could be replaced by a democratic regime with minimal American investment of blood and treasure. Like other exiles (and some American experts), he vastly exaggerated the influence of secular technocrats and vastly underplayed the power of tribal and religious forces. This view was adopted by the Bush administration and helps to account for the major American blunders of 2003-2004, which were essentially based on the premise that Iraqi society could regenerate itself after Saddam’s downfall.

But I also believe Greg Scoblete is wrong: First place, the Green movement in Iran is not a figment of some exile’s imagination. Second, simply because Chalabi is now an Iranian stooge does not mean he was one in 2003. My read is that he is an opportunist, out to grab power for himself, who will make use of whatever allies he finds helpful. Prior to the invasion of Iraq and immediately afterward, Chalabi, no doubt, hoped that his American backers would enthrone him. When this didn’t happen, when in fact the U.S. authorities turned against him, he sought backing in another quarter and struck an unsavory alliance with Muqtada al-Sadr and his sponsors in the Quds Force.

The bottom line is that Chalabi now exercises a pernicious influence in Iraq and the U.S. should work with other Iraqi political factions to minimize his impact and try to roll back his electoral disqualifications. And those of us who ever had a kind word for him (myself included) should eat their words.

Ahmed Chalabi (remember him?) is back in the news. He is the power behind the de-Baathification Commission, which is wreaking havoc with Iraqi politics by disqualifying secular candidates for supposed Baathist ties. As General Ray Odierno has said, Chalabi and his protégé, Ali Faisal al-Lami, appear to be acting at the behest of the Iranians:

The two Iraqi politicians “clearly are influenced by Iran,” General Odierno said. “We have direct intelligence that tells us that.” He said the two men had several meetings in Iran, including sessions with an Iranian who is on the United States terrorist watch list.

Real Clear World’s Compass blogger Greg Scoblete has responded with a non sequitur headlined “Paging Douglas Feith”:

Many neoconservatives are demanding that the U.S. throw its full weight behind the Iranians in their pursuit of freedom. On the surface, this is obviously a noble idea, but it’s worth remembering that the very people making confident predictions about the predilections of the Iranian people were duped by an Iranian stooge.

In turn Feith, the former Undersecretary of Defense, has weighed in to deny “that Pentagon officials aimed to favor or ‘anoint’ Chalabi as the leader of Iraq after Saddam” or that they were duped by Chalabi before the war.

I think Feith is right on the narrow technical points (the U.S. did not try to install Chalabi as Iraq’s leader and the U.S. intelligence community did not buy all the intel he was peddling) but wrong on the larger issue. There is no doubt that Chalabi had a significant impact on the Washington debate prior to the invasion of Iraq: he was a leading lobbyist for the view that Saddam could be replaced by a democratic regime with minimal American investment of blood and treasure. Like other exiles (and some American experts), he vastly exaggerated the influence of secular technocrats and vastly underplayed the power of tribal and religious forces. This view was adopted by the Bush administration and helps to account for the major American blunders of 2003-2004, which were essentially based on the premise that Iraqi society could regenerate itself after Saddam’s downfall.

But I also believe Greg Scoblete is wrong: First place, the Green movement in Iran is not a figment of some exile’s imagination. Second, simply because Chalabi is now an Iranian stooge does not mean he was one in 2003. My read is that he is an opportunist, out to grab power for himself, who will make use of whatever allies he finds helpful. Prior to the invasion of Iraq and immediately afterward, Chalabi, no doubt, hoped that his American backers would enthrone him. When this didn’t happen, when in fact the U.S. authorities turned against him, he sought backing in another quarter and struck an unsavory alliance with Muqtada al-Sadr and his sponsors in the Quds Force.

The bottom line is that Chalabi now exercises a pernicious influence in Iraq and the U.S. should work with other Iraqi political factions to minimize his impact and try to roll back his electoral disqualifications. And those of us who ever had a kind word for him (myself included) should eat their words.

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Are the “Baathists” the New “Fascists”?

Joe Biden is hardly the world’s most diplomatic guy. Recall his infamous walk-out, while still a senator, from a dinner with Hamid Karzai: a gesture of pique that needlessly worsened relations with an important American ally. Nevertheless, I am glad he has gone to Iraq to try to resolve a dispute that threatens to cast into doubt the legitimacy of that country’s upcoming elections.

Iraq’s Accountability and Justice Commission has disqualified some 500 candidates from seeking election on the grounds of being “Baathists,” which, in today’s Iraq, has become an amorphous term of abuse comparable in the West to calling someone a “fascist.” Most of those affected are secular candidates who would be expected to oppose the Shiite religious alliance, the National Iraqi Alliance, made up primarily of ISCI and the Sadrists. The ban includes, among others, Saleh al-Mutlaq, a leading Sunni politician who left the Baathist Party in 1977, and the well-respected Defense Minister Abdul-Kader Jassem al-Obeidi.

What makes this whole process truly farcical is that the chairman of the Accountability and Justice Commission is none other than Ali Faisal al-Lami, a close associate of the increasingly discredited Ahmed Chalabi, who is now in alliance with the most extreme and violent Sadrists. Until last summer, Lami was in an American detention facility, charged (based on convincing intelligence) with orchestrating a bombing “that killed two American Embassy employees, two American soldiers and six Iraqis at a district council meeting in Baghdad” in 2008. Lami is hardly the kind of moral exemplar who should be ruling on anyone else’s fitness to seek office, and if his disqualifications stand, they will only reinforce a sense of grievance among the Sunni minority and among the large number of secularists of whatever sectarian persuasion — and justifiably so. I can only hope that Biden can bring enough political clout to force a resolution that would allow candidates to run for office freely regardless of their past political affiliations.

Joe Biden is hardly the world’s most diplomatic guy. Recall his infamous walk-out, while still a senator, from a dinner with Hamid Karzai: a gesture of pique that needlessly worsened relations with an important American ally. Nevertheless, I am glad he has gone to Iraq to try to resolve a dispute that threatens to cast into doubt the legitimacy of that country’s upcoming elections.

Iraq’s Accountability and Justice Commission has disqualified some 500 candidates from seeking election on the grounds of being “Baathists,” which, in today’s Iraq, has become an amorphous term of abuse comparable in the West to calling someone a “fascist.” Most of those affected are secular candidates who would be expected to oppose the Shiite religious alliance, the National Iraqi Alliance, made up primarily of ISCI and the Sadrists. The ban includes, among others, Saleh al-Mutlaq, a leading Sunni politician who left the Baathist Party in 1977, and the well-respected Defense Minister Abdul-Kader Jassem al-Obeidi.

What makes this whole process truly farcical is that the chairman of the Accountability and Justice Commission is none other than Ali Faisal al-Lami, a close associate of the increasingly discredited Ahmed Chalabi, who is now in alliance with the most extreme and violent Sadrists. Until last summer, Lami was in an American detention facility, charged (based on convincing intelligence) with orchestrating a bombing “that killed two American Embassy employees, two American soldiers and six Iraqis at a district council meeting in Baghdad” in 2008. Lami is hardly the kind of moral exemplar who should be ruling on anyone else’s fitness to seek office, and if his disqualifications stand, they will only reinforce a sense of grievance among the Sunni minority and among the large number of secularists of whatever sectarian persuasion — and justifiably so. I can only hope that Biden can bring enough political clout to force a resolution that would allow candidates to run for office freely regardless of their past political affiliations.

Read Less