Joe Conason's Journal

The campaign to install a controversial dissident as Iraq's new leader begins in earnest.

Published April 11, 2003 10:20PM (EDT)

Swiss cheesy
The BBC interviewed Richard Perle last night about his favorite current subject: the bright political future of old Perle pal Ahmed Chalabi in Iraq. Neither he nor Paul Wolfowitz has been too subtle in pushing Chalabi toward power. Their rote denials are slightly embarrassing. (To understand the real deal, read Robert Dreyfuss's report on their real machinations.) After the hacking murders in the Najaf shrine yesterday, they probably shouldn't be too pushy.

Chalabi was on the radio this morning, too, quickly dismissing his financial scandals in Jordan with a new explanation. He attributed them to Western racism against "wogs" rather than a conspiracy of Saddam Hussein and the late King Hussein. The problems of the Chalabi banking and corporate empire extended far beyond Jordan, where they began, and eventually required the intervention of the Swiss authorities against the family's "unsavory financial dealings."

According to Swiss reporters, the shutdown of the family's Petra Bank in Jordan was followed by "difficulties" at two other firms owned or controlled by Ahmed and his brothers -- the Middle East Banking Corp., based in Lebanon, and Socolfi, based in Geneva.

The $100 million Socolfi bankruptcy in 1990 reportedly "ruined thousands of investors." The Chalabi family "blamed the first Gulf War" for the failure. But three years ago, two of Ahmed's brothers "were sentenced to six months in prison in Switzerland for falsifying documents in relation to dealings at Socofi."

Le Temps, the Geneva daily, reports that the Chalabis have been suspected of lending unsecured bank deposits to their own companies. The paper said that "Socofi is believed to have paid SFr88 million [about $60 million] of non-guaranteed funds over a five-year period into companies owned by the [Chalabi] family."

For more on Chalabi, see my current column in the New York Observer. I'm beginning to see why he might fit in with the Bush family, Dick Cheney and company.

Meanwhile, as anarchy sweeps across Iraq as swiftly as a stealth bomber, the hawks are gloating. Military experts as diverse as Bill Kristol and Bill Bennett agree that this was one of the great military campaigns of all time, no doubt ranking with the achievements of Hannibal, Alexander and U.S. Grant. It is always interesting to see how airily these well-padded moralizers dismiss the misery and death of faraway people. Julian Barnes is likewise fascinated by this phenomenon in today's Guardian.
[3:25 p.m. PDT, April 11, 2003]

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By Salon Staff

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