Chalabi's new tune: "Let my people go"

By Geraldine Sealey

Published May 20, 2004 6:36PM (EDT)

How did former Pentagon/neocon darling, would-be Saddam replacement and bearer of bad intelligence Ahmed Chalabi so fall from U.S. grace that his house was raided this morning by American troops and a gun was put to his head? Or was the raid staged to falsely pit Chalabi against the decreasingly popular U.S. occupiers and thus bolster his own popularity? The rumors and speculation swirl. But Chalabi insists he's finished with the Coalition Provisional Authority -- and now fancies himself more of an Iraqi Martin Luther King Jr., than Pentagon patsy. "My relationship with the CPA now is non-existent ... My message to the CPA is let my people go, let my people be free. We are grateful to President Bush for liberating Iraq but it is time for the Iraqi people to run their affairs," Chalabi said at a Baghdad press conference.

What's the deal with Chalabi? Andrew Cockburn reports in Salon that "Chalabi, maddened by the realization that he was being excluded from the post-June 30 hand-over arrangements, was putting together a sectarian Shiite faction to destabilize and destroy the new Iraqi government. 'This all started since [U.N. envoy Lakhdar] Brahimi announced that Chalabi would be kept out of the new arrangement,' says an Iraqi political observer who is not only long familiar with Chalabi himself but also in close touch with key actors, including U.S. officials at the CPA and Iraqi politicians. 'Ahmed is gathering groups to bring this new government down even before July 1. He is in a very destructive phase, mobilizing forces to make sure the U.N. initiative -- due to be announced in 10 days -- fails.' Chalabi has reportedly been inflaming his recruits with reports that veteran Algerian diplomat Brahimi is part of a Sunni conspiracy bent on undermining the rights of Iraqi Shiites to hold power in Iraq."

Here's Juan Cole's analysis on Chalabi's transformation from pet of Rumsfeld and Cheney to odd man out in the rebuilding of Iraq:

"Lakhdar Brahimi, the special UN envoy, had made it clear over a month ago that he would not appoint Chalabi to the caretaker government. In response, Chalabi has become increasingly critical of the US. He complained that rehabilitating the Baathists after the siege of Fallujah failed was tantamount to putting Nazis in power. He has recently loudly complained about the crackdown on the militia of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, saying that it has cost 1500 Iraqi lives, more than should be spent to arrest a single man."

"Chalabi came on television on Thursday and said his message to the US was 'Let my people go!' He is now playing an Iraqi Martin Luther King! He says he wants an immediate turn-over of all authority in Iraq to the Iraqis. I.e. he now has adopted the Howard Dean position. Assuming that he manages to stay out of jail, Chalabi will run for political office in January, 2005, and will probably represent himself as an anti-Occupation Iraqi nationalist. You know, the wily old chameleon could still come out ahead."

Still, there is speculation out there -- pure speculation, so far, it seems -- that Chalabi's Washington boosters, dwindling in number as they may be, have encouraged him to go anti-occupation in order to boost his popularity and legitimacy with Iraqis. Josh Marshall's take on that theory:

"I don't doubt that some of Chalabi's Washington supporters have encouraged him to take a more oppositional stand toward the occupation authorities to bolster his own popularity. But there are many US government players in Iraq right now. And many of them really are hostile to Chalabi. Something quite that orchestrated would, I suspect, be far too difficult to pull-off. And are we dealing here with smooth operators? Answers itself, doesn't it?"

"One other point: You only have to look next door to see what happens to American puppets after they have their fallings-out with the Americans. Clue: They don't get embraced by the other side. In fact, that guy from next door was lucky to get out of the country in one piece."

Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at

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