Ahmad Chalabi on the Brink of a Comeback
The former Iraqi exile leader who helped found the Iraqi National Congress, Ahmad Chalabi, is seeking his country’s highest office and says he has accepted an informal nomination to be prime minister. In a phone interview yesterday with The New York Sun, Mr. Chalabi said he had said yes to the request from prominent members of the United Iraqi Alliance list, the slate of candidates that will likely control a majority of seats in the transitional national assembly to be announced in the coming days. Among Mr. Chalabi’s supporters is the leader of a resistance against Saddam Hussein in southern Iraq in 1991, Abdul Karim Al Muhammadawi, known as the “prince of the marshes.” Mr. Chalabi has also garnered support from a former member of the Iraqi Governing Council, Salama al-Khufaji,who is one of the highest-ranking women on the UIA list. Mr. Chalabi also draws support from the Shiite Political Council, the organization he helped build this summer after he was excluded from the interim government headed by Prime Minister Allawi.
If Mr. Chalabi manages to secure enough support to be prime minister of Iraq, it will mark an extraordinary comeback for the man most analysts wrote off last May, when American and Iraqi soldiers raided his home and confiscated computers on charges that he had employed thugs to bully bureaucrats in the finance ministry. Throughout last summer, Mr. Chalabi was targeted by an untrained judge appointed by the Americans; all charges were eventually dropped. The CIA had written off the former banker as having no political base in Iraq, while leading Democratic politicians blamed him for fabricating intelligence on Saddam Hussein’s links to Al Qaeda and arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.
In the race for prime minister, Mr. Chalabi’s chief rivals are other Shiite politicians, such as the current finance minister, Adel Abdel-Mehdi, who this week rejected a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. Another aspirant to head the Iraqi government is the current leader of the Dawa party, Ibrahim Jafari. Mr. Jafari was a vice president in the Allawi government, but has been a vocal critic of Mr. Allawi in the run-up to the election.
There were rumors of this around the time of the election, but I didn’t know what to make of them. He would seem an odd choice, indeed. I’d be a bit concerned that he would be viewed as an American puppet, given his provenance.