13 April 2004

When puppets pull the strings

A small event on Sunday, April 4, the very day after the move against al-Sadr prompted the revolt, provides the missing piece to the puzzle. For that was when the CPA announced the name of Iraq's putative new defense minister for the post-June 30 government. His name is Ali Allawi and he is a loyal, close associate of Ahmed Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress. More, he is Chalabi's nephew.

Chalabi, longtime exile leader, has never had a power base within Iraq. He is a smooth operator, convicted of embezzling millions from the Petra Bank of Jordan -- sentenced in absentia to 22 years of hard labor -- but championed by the neoconservatives of Washington. They had lined up Chalabi to be their man in Baghdad years before the conquest of Iraq. Although he is a Shiia, the 60-year-old Chalabi had not lived there since age 12, and when he returned he surrounded himself with a U.S.-paid personal militia but had no political following. Without his U.S. sponsors, he would not last five minutes as a force. He is widely suspected of profiting enormously from U.S. contracts in the country. After the war, Chalabi proudly boasted of providing misleading intelligence to the U.S. government that was indispensable in spurring the invasion. He remains on the Pentagon's payroll -- $340,000 a month -- not counting the $40 million that he's received at the insistence of the Republican-dominated Congress over the past decade. He is a focal point of mistrust on all sides within Iraq.

Just as Bremer will not make the slightest move without the approval of his Pentagon bosses, the Defense Department policymakers continue to rely on Chalabi alone for their political assessments on Iraq. In private conversation, as in public, they remain amazingly enthusiastic about Chalabi's supposed political skills, and even genius, and proclaim repeatedly that he is the only man with the brilliance to hold Iraq together and make it work. Give Chalabi a free hand after June 30 and give him all the U.S. firepower he wants to crush his foes -- this is their master plan; there is no other.

This is the same Chalabi who controls most of the 'special agencies' the allegedly sovereign Iraqi transitional government will inherit from Paul Bremer. Bremer also granted the new defence minister a 5-year term (arguably a violation of the transitional Administrative Law, but then so was closing down al-Sadr's paper).

Perhaps I shouldn't have slept with Rupert. For Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz to leap under the covers with him, Ahmed must have something going for him.

No comments: