WASHINGTON – The top American commander in Iraq said Tuesday that the U.S. has "direct intelligence" that two senior Iraqi officials in charge of keeping Saddam Hussein loyalists out of the Baghdad government have ties to Iran.
Gen. Raymond Odierno says Ali al-Lami and Ahmed Chalabi "are clearly influenced by Iran" and have attended senior-level meetings with members of the hardline Shiite regime there.
Al-Lami, detained in 2008 because of alleged ties to a Baghdad bombing, now heads an Iraq commission that has blacklisted hundreds of political candidates. Chalabi, who is blamed for supplying the U.S. faulty intelligence on Iraq's weapons program prior to the 2003 invasion, also is a member of the panel.
Odierno said that al-Lami was released in August 2009 only because the intelligence linking him to the bombing wasn't enough to prosecute him in court.
Odierno told an audience at the Institute for the Study of War that al-Lami "has been involved in various nefarious activities in Iraq for sometime" and called it "disappointing" that he was put in charge of the commission.
Al-Lami and Chalabi "are clearly influenced by Iran. We have direct intelligence (that) tells us that," Odierno said.
Odierno said he doesn't think al-Lami's commission has been transparent enough. Still, he described the blacklisting as minor in scope and said he hopes it doesn't dominate the March elections.
"We don't want the election highjacked and pushed towards an issue that's really not the fundamental issue," he said. "What we want it to be about is Iraq and the issues facing Iraq and aout the democratic process moving forward in Iraq."