Ahmed Chalabi goes home

The political chameleon returns to Iraq to face charges and "help the government and stop the violence."

By Michael Howard
Published August 12, 2004 2:34PM (EDT)

Ahmed Chalabi, the leader of the Iraqi National Congress and a longtime opponent of Saddam Hussein, returned to Iraq yesterday, saying he was determined to clear his name of counterfeiting charges.

"He is back among his people and trying to get some rest before returning to his political duties -- trying to help the government and stop the violence," an INC official, Mithal al-Alusi, told the Associated Press.

Iraq's senior investigative judge issued an arrest warrant for Chalabi on counterfeiting charges last week. If convicted, the controversial politician, who in exile was a key ally of the U.S. in the run-up to the Iraq war, could face a lengthy jail sentence.

A warrant has been issued against his nephew, Salem Chalabi -- who heads the tribunal that will try Saddam -- for involvement in the murder of an official from the Ministry of Finance. Both men described the charges as ridiculous, saying they were politically motivated.

Ahmed Chalabi was at an economic conference in Iran when the warrant was issued. Salem Chalabi was in London. The two men said they would return to Iraq to fight the charges but wanted guarantees of their security.

It remained unclear last night whether and when Ahmed Chalabi would give himself up to authorities for questioning, as the warrant demands.

The counterfeiting charge is the latest setback for a man once touted by U.S. officials as a future Iraqi leader but later sidelined amid accusations of links to Iran.

Chalabi's camp has also been hit by allegations of feeding misleading information about weapons of mass destruction to the U.S.

Last night, Saddam Hussein's top nuclear scientist, Jaffar Dhia Jaffar, said all of Iraq's WMD were destroyed after the first Gulf War in 1991. "They were not available in 2003 as they have been destroyed. The program was never ... reactivated -- none of the programs," he told Newsnight. He added that British claims that Iraq sought to acquire uranium from Niger were "categorically false."

"It's not even possible; I know it's false," Dr. Jaffar said.

Elsewhere in Iraq, U.S. jet fighters bombed several sites in the Fallujah last night, killing four people and injuring four others, hospital officials said.

An Islamic Web site meanwhile carried a videotape that appeared to show militants in Iraq beheading a man they identified as a CIA agent. The authenticity of the videotape could not be verified immediately.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said CIA officials have accounted for all employees and no one was missing.

The Internet site, which regularly carries tapes and statements issued by Islamic extremist groups, displayed footage of eight militants surrounding a seated man who wore a sign around his neck.

Michael Howard

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