Oh, boy. This is good stuff. He’s back. And just in time for the country’s reexamination of the administration’s Iraq intel fiasco.
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Politically savvy and a sharp dresser with a perpetual grin, Ahmad Chalabi has gone from Washington insider, to alleged Iranian spy, to someone the Bush administration cannot afford to ignore — all in the space of two years.
Chalabi, a deputy prime minister, plans to travel this month to Washington to refurbish a reputation tainted by the since-discredited claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. At home, Chalabi has quit a Shiite political alliance criticized for its strong ties to Iran.
All this points to one thing: Chalabi is maneuvering to become Iraq’s next prime minister after elections in less than two months.
That might seem a long-shot for Chalabi, an MIT graduate and former banker who is a controversial figure at home and abroad. But his political acumen and ability to survive leave both friends and foes in awe.
The balding, cherubic-faced Chalabi, who spent most of his life abroad, had been the Pentagon’s choice to replace Saddam. But when his longtime foe was ousted, Chalabi ended up as one of 25 Iraqis picked by L. Paul Bremer, Iraq’s former U.S. governor, to sit on the largely powerless Iraqi Governing Council.
His fortunes suffered another blow last year over allegations that he leaked intelligence information to Iran. The U.S. failure to find any weapons of mass destruction further tarnished his credibility. And Bremer turned to Chalabi rival Ayad Allawi as Iraq’s first prime minister after Saddam.
Chalabi clearly hopes his visit to Washington, his first there in at least two years, will enable him to renew his ties with the Americans.
In Washington, a State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to make announcements to the media, said efforts were under way to arrange a meeting for Chalabi with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Chalabi’s top aide, Haider al-Mousawi, said meetings with Treasury Secretary John Snow and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley also were in the works.
The visit, which caps months of contacts between Chalabi and Bush administration officials, would signal the Iraqi politician’s rehabilitation in Washington’s eyes, providing him with considerable political capital in a country where the Americans wield vast influence.
In an interview with Newsweek, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad insisted that “Iraqis will decide” who becomes prime minister and avoided endorsing anyone. But the public perception that Chalabi has influence in Washington would be a plus.