2003 April 15 Tuesday
Jim Hoagland Defends Ahmad Chalabi

Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland, who has known Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi for 30 years, says he's a good man and that his association with the neoconservatives and Pentagon is due to their being convinced his analysis rather than to his being their puppet. Hoagland also says that the State Department attacks him because he's a Shiite and the Sunnis of Saudi Arabia and other Arab states do not like him for that reason and the Sunni states have convinced the State Department of their view of Chalabi.

Today it is Vice President Cheney, some Pentagon planners and neoconservative intellectuals (among others) who have absorbed his analysis of Iraq. That fact is offered as prima facie evidence that Chalabi is their creation and must be stopped. But that is the kind of guilt-by-association politics that Cheney once practiced in denouncing Nelson Mandela's African National Congress because it took support from Moscow and Moammar Gaddafi when American help was not available.

That a prominent columnist can advance such arguments demonstrates how many factors are at work in deciding who to back or oppose for new Iraqi leadership. Whether Chalabi turns out to be a wise choice for a leader in a future Iraq provisional government remains to be seen.

It is difficult to know what to make of this. Chalabi says he is not seeking a position in the Iraqi government.

"I am not a candidate for any post," Mr. Chalabi said in an interview with France's Le Monde daily. He will not attend today's opposition meeting, preferring to send a representative instead.

Is this just posturing? Does he want to just act as an adviser to Jay Garner while avoiding an official title? Does he want to stay out of the provisional government in order to make a run for elected office when elections are held?

Chalabi is seen as important enough that an assassination attempt has already been made against him.

“They attacked a camp of Chalabi’s devotees, leaving a number of them killed,” Abdul Amir El-Rakabi, an Iraqi exile, told IslamOnline.net on Saturday, April 12.

“They narrowly missed Chalabi,” he added.

Chalabi opposes a big role for the UN in governing Iraq.

“I do not believe the UN would be able to play a central role in Iraq. It has become a de facto ally of Saddam Hussein,” he said in an interview in Le Monde.

An article about the Iraqi city of Kut near the Iranian border portrays an Iraqi Shiite cleric paying Iranians to do a street protest against Chalabi. The US Marines are disarming the clerics followers and the Marines believe that Chalabi is liked by most of the people in Kut.

Marines say they aren't sure what Abbas was doing before the government fell, and they say he has the support of only 10 percent of the local population, with the rest supporting Chalabi.

While newscasts continue to focus on snipers and the remaining fighting in Iraq it is time to turn our attention toward the political sentiments of the various factions of the Iraqi populace and the new parties and factions that are very rapidly forming and competing for influence and power. Clerics are clearly going to try to make power plays backed up by their most fanatical followers. Small intensely motivated minorities can succeed in intimidating the rest of the population if their efforts are not checked by opposition forces. At least in Kut the US Marines have already demonstrated a willingness to block that type of play for power. Lets hope the US occupation forces prove equally wise in the rest of Iraq.

Update: Rajiv Chandrasekaran reports on Ahmad Chalabi's efforts to build support inside Iraq.

Mindful of the task, Chalabi has spent almost every waking moment assiduously courting legions of Iraqis, from leaders of tribes with hundreds of thousands of members to individual torture victims. Many are invited to the club for one-on-one meetings in a small lounge. Others show up at the gates unannounced, hoping for a glimpse of the man they are certain will be Iraq's next president. Some come to take the measure of a figure they have only heard about on shortwave radio broadcasts. Some want to curry favor, subtly asking for jobs or cash handouts.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 April 15 09:58 AM  Reconstruction and Reformation

Steve Sailer said at April 15, 2003 3:38 PM:

The clerics are organizing the vigilante committees that are cracking down on the looting, according to a new WaPo story. It's an interesting experiment in Political Darwininism we are running -- let Hobbesian anarchy reign in the streets and see who is strong enough to put it down. It's one way to figure out who the natural leaders of the new Iraq could be. But what if we don't like the ones who emerge?

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