Iraq: Chillin' with Chalabi

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Nov 29, 2005, 7:08:25 AM11/29/05
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Iraq: Chillin' with Chalabi

Via NY Transfer News Collective * All the News that Doesn't Fit

Huffington Post via Progreso Weekly - Nov 24, 2005
http://www.progresoweekly.com/index.php?progreso=Arianna_Huffington&otherweek=1132898400

Chillin' with Chalabi: My journey into the surreal

By Arianna Huffington

Ahmad Chalabi's Washington visit hit the top floor Monday of last
week, as he met with Don Rumsfeld in the morning and Dick Cheney in
the afternoon.

No official word on what they discussed - but I got a sneak peek
Friday night over the course of a surrealistic four-hour dinner with
Chalabi at Megu, a Japanese restaurant in Tribeca.

After seeing Chalabi speak at the Council on Foreign Relations (and
being denied the chance to ask a question) on Friday, I received a
call asking if I would like to meet him for breakfast at 8 the next
morning. I declined, explaining that I was flying out at 7 a.m.
Shortly after, I got another call, suggesting I join him and his group
for a late dinner.

So, after speaking on a panel on the Clinton presidency at Hofstra
University, I headed straight to Tribeca.

I arrived at Megu at 11:30 and was led past a phalanx of American
security guards (provided, I was told, by the U.S. State Department),
to a small, private room where Chalabi, his daughter Tamara (a Harvard
Ph.D. who lives in Baghdad and works closely with her father), and a
half-dozen members of his entourage were seated.

Chalabi's Master of the Bazaar manner reminded me of former Rep. Lee
Hamilton's description of Chalabi as the best lobbyist he'd ever met -
other than legendary Hollywood lobbyist Jack Valenti.

But he is also a study in contradictions, at one moment talking like
the only power broker who could bring Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis - even
former Baathists - together, and then at the next moment coming across
as a virtuoso victim, complaining that the CIA is trying to make him a
scapegoat for all the prewar intelligence failures. "They even tried
to stick Curveball on me," he told me, reflecting on his long and
bitter history with the agency.

On the political front, Chalabi kept returning to his life's goal: to
overthrow Saddam. Not because of WMD, he told me, but because of human
rights abuses.

But that's not what he had said in July 2002: "You have the choice of
using military force to liberate Iraq or of having your own civilians
killed in the thousands."

Chalabi definitely wants American troops to stay in Iraq - even though
he had a lot of horror stories about the way the U.S. military is
operating "with total immunity and impunity."

"American soldiers," he said, "are breaking into people's homes and
are arresting and detaining Iraqi citizens without charges. Even if
they run over an Iraqi and kill him they will not be charged with a
crime, because they are above Iraqi law."

"Isn't that proof," I kept asking, "that the presence of the military
is fueling the insurgency, and that your job would be easier if the
Americans left?"

"No," he kept insisting, "we need the Americans to protect us from our
neighbors. From Syria, from Saudi Arabia, from Iran."

That's obviously one of the main objectives of his current trip. He's
convinced that the administration, for political reasons, is looking
for a way out of Iraq. And he wants to make sure that doesn't happen.

But his other objective, which he told me he was planning to discuss
with both Rumsfeld and Cheney, is to change the way U.S. troops are
operating in Iraq. "America," he said, "has a Status of Forces
Agreement, which governs how U.S. forces operate inside a sovereign
nation, with over 100 countries. But the Bush administration refuses
to have one with Iraq - and, as a result, the U.S. Army is operating
outside the law. Rumsfeld feels that a SOFA will tie the hands of the
U.S. military and not allow it to fight the insurgency. Of course, the
lack of such an agreement has the opposite effect since it causes
great resentment towards the U.S. among the Iraqi people."

Another thing made clear through the night was how much Chalabi hates
Paul Bremer and what the Coalition Provision[al] Authority did in Iraq. So
much so that he's willing to praise Henry Waxman, who has criticized
him harshly, but who, according to Chalabi, has done the most thorough
work on what he regards as "the tragic waste and abuse of billions of
dollars that belonged to the Iraqi people."

"The administration wants to cover this up," he told me. "Let's hope
Waxman won't let them."

The problem is that this time I don't think the Master of the Bazaar
will be able to square the circle and get what he wants. Because what
he wants is an occupying army that no longer acts as an occupying army
- - an army that fiercely protects Iraq from its neighbors while being
the smiling cop on the beat in Iraq's explosive neighborhoods.

It ain't gonna happen.

There is no way he is going to get Rumsfeld and Cheney, steeped in the
neocon "you're either at the table or on the menu" ethos, to agree to
limit the powers of the U.S. army.

So to the extent that his visit here has made it more likely the
troops will stay until the Iraqis are ready to take over - which
effectively means indefinitely - Chalabi will have done a disservice
to his country. And he will have made all the things he cares about -
including a constant and uninterrupted flow of oil - infinitely harder
to achieve.

And it will also lead to even more dead young Americans, more Gold
Star Moms, and more broken lives.

© 2005 Arianna Huffington.
Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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Gandalf Grey

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Nov 29, 2005, 7:39:06 AM11/29/05
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