Published May 24, 2004
WASHINGTON – Iraqi Governing Council member Ahmad Chalabi (search), once a favored Iraqi exile of the American government, denied accusations Sunday that he passed secrets to Iran -- and challenged CIA director George Tenet to a verbal duel before Congress.
"These charges are being put out by George Tenet (search). Let him come to Congress. I will come to Congress, and I will lay everything on the table. Let Congress decide," Chalabi said on "Fox News Sunday."
Calling the charges absurd, a U.S. intelligence official told Reuters that Chalabi's willingness to testify under oath before Congress "would be viewed as a positive development."
Chalabi admitted to Fox News that his Iraqi National Congress (search) group had met with agents of the Iranian government. He said he met with Iranian representatives some time about one-and-a-half months ago -- adding that all members of the Iraqi Governing Council (search) regularly meet with officials from the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad.
"Indeed we have had many meetings with the Iranian government, but we have passed no secret information, no classified documents to them from the United States," Chalabi said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Last week, Defense officials announced that the Pentagon had stopped monthly payments of about $340,000 to the Iraqi National Congress.
Time magazine reported that the FBI was probing whether U.S. officials illegally transmitted secrets to the INC.
"... we have not had any classified information given to us by the United States," Chalabi said on NBC.
Chalabi also claimed on the Sunday talk shows that the U.S. government had turned against him because he had been vocally opposing many facets of the Coalition Provisional Authority's occupation of Iraq -- after having supported the U.S.-led invasion.
"I have become a person who is calling for complete sovereignty in Iraq," he told ABC.
Also on ABC, Chalabi deflected charges that he misled the U.S. on intelligence concerning weapons of mass destruction before the war with defectors who made overly strong cases. He claimed the INC introduced three defectors to different agencies of the U.S. government.
"It was up to them to analyze this [information], and the responsibility for reporting to the president after analyzing the information is not mine," Chalabi said on ABC.
Iran Admits Close Chalabi Ties, Denies Spy Charges
Iran acknowledged Sunday it had a strong dialogue with Chalabi, but rejected accusations that he passed classified intelligence to Iran. Chalabi's long-standing contacts with Iran have left some in the U.S. government suspicious about his intentions.
His home and offices were raided by Iraqi police backed by American soldiers on Thursday, and Chalabi is now embroiled in a public battle with the U.S.-run occupation authority. He has become a harsh critic of Washington's Iraq policies.
"We had continuous and permanent dialogue with Chalabi and other members of the Iraqi Governing Council," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said at a press conference. "But spying charges are unfounded and baseless. It's not true at all."
"We didn't receive any confidential information from Chalabi or any other member of the Iraqi Governing Council," Asefi said.
American allegations against Chalabi, he said, were an attempt to shift attention from the scandal surrounding the abuse of Iraqi prisoners and Washington's increasing problems in Iraq.
"To overshadow its increasing problems in Iraq and get rid of pressures resulting from the prisoner abuse scandal ... the U.S. is making false accusations," Asefi said.
"In the past months, Americans have said many lies and failed to come up with evidence for their allegations," he said, apparently referring to U.S. accusations that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein (search) had stockpiled weapons of mass destruction, a charge Washington failed to prove.
Chalabi once was being groomed by the United States as a possible successor to Saddam. However, the U.S. State Department did not share the Pentagon's enthusiasm for him, and Chalabi became a liability after no significant weapons of mass destruction were found in post-war Iraq.
Such weapons were cited by the United States and Britain as the primary justification for the Iraq war, and Chalabi's network of Iraqi exiles in the Iraqi National Congress had provided the Bush administration intelligence reports of their existence.
On Saturday, a senior Iraqi official alleged that Chalabi's security chief, Araz Habib, was wanted by Iraqi and coalition authorities for alleged links to Iran's intelligence service.
Habib, a Shiite Kurd, was being sought under an arrest warrant because "he has relations with the Iranian government" and "works for the Iranian intelligence," the official said in Baghdad on condition of anonymity. Chalabi has defended his aide.
Fox News' Andrew Hard and The Associated Press contributed to this report.