Published May 24, 2004
Ahmad Chalabi (search) had one of those bad weeks. Some might say he was asking for it.
I have a few personal insights:
The recent Iraqi police-led raid on his headquarters was ostensibly after information regarding corruption within the membership of his Iraqi National Congress (search) and the nascent Iraqi government.
But with U.S. soldiers standing guard, and even more serious charges swirling around him — like leaking potentially life-threatening information about U.S. troops to Iran — it seems that American officials, some of whom once championed Chalabi, are now more than happy to kiss this guy good-bye.
I first met Chalabi in August 2002. Where else? In his offices a few doors down from Harrod's department store in the swank Knightsbridge section of London. This was often the rap on him: While many other fellow Iraqi "dissidents" were sweating it out in Hussein prison hellholes, he and his crowd were seen as hanging around London watering holes, in touch equally with the struggling Iraqi masses as with the likes of (fellow London frequenter) Gwyneth Paltrow.
First when I went to see him, his aides at the INC office said he wasn't there. Then, they said that maybe he WAS there. They let us in for an interview. (I could never figure out whether his buddies were just angling for more Fox face time for themselves or actually shielding their boss.)
Anyway, it was all a bit of an anti-climax. With his long trodden-upon nation about to be liberated, Chalabi seemed curiously unenthused.
All I could think of was my interview with now-Afghan President Hamid Karzai (search) the October before in Quetta, Pakistan. He spoke deeply and emotionally about a new Afghanistan. He was already getting ready to enter the southern part of the country to lead a guerilla war against Mullah Omar's boys there.
An hour after that interview, U.S. bombs started falling on Afghanistan. A few hours after that, he disappeared heroically into the night. But I digress. ....
The second time I met Chalabi was in post-Saddam Baghdad. I accompanied him to his "ancestral" home, which he and his extended family left when things were "going south" in Iraq. The only hitch this time is that the place was far from humble. Even in those days, the guy wasn't exactly a "man of the people." I mean, even Saddam Hussein could have made a better case for the Iraqi version of the "Abe Lincoln Raised in a Log Cabin" award, having paid his dues in a few squalid mud huts along the Tigris.
The last time I saw Chalabi was later that same year. A mass grave of several thousand slain Iraqi Shiites had been uncovered south of Baghdad. There were stories from years ago about Saddam's henchmen doing away with legions of his foes and hauling them by truckload to be buried, some of them alive. Now, families had come to identify their long-lost loved ones. It was, perhaps, the most emotional scene I had ever witnessed during my years in Iraq.
And who was there? None other than Chalabi, working the crowd (and the press). Except it didn't exactly go to plan. When some of the mourners spotted him and got wind of his mission they started to hurl epithets — and worse — at him. He and his body guards barely avoided being hurled into the same grave the unlucky Saddam dissidents had long found themselves in.
So now Chalabi appears to be history, at least with the Coalition. While he made it to the Iraqi Governing Council, and he undeniably played a role in the dumping of dictator Saddam, his apparent dream of leading Iraq would seem now to be unrealizable. The most he appears able to do is undercut efforts by the U.S. to hand over the Iraqi reins to the U.N. and other Iraqis, who have more grass-roots support.
Still, it's apparent Chalabi's not going down easy. "Let my people go," he declared at a press conference this week in defiance of the Coalition. My guess is that at least some Iraqis — and others — might be happy to see HIM "go"....back to Knightsbridge, London.