Why the neo-cons lost their pin-up
boy By Andrew Tully
past four years, the US government has given tens of
millions of dollars to the Iraqi National Congress (INC)
to help gather intelligence in Iraq, with monthly
payments of $335,000.
Before the war, the INC
provided America with intelligence on former Iraqi
leader Saddam Hussein and his suspected weapons programs
and how to plan for a post-Saddam occupation. Since
Saddam's fall, they have helped occupation forces find
Some of the intelligence
the INC has provided to the US has turned out to be
questionable, however. So far, no significant caches of
unconventional weapons have been found. And many Iraqis
are resisting the US-led occupation, despite assurances
- again reportedly from the INC - that coalition forces
would be welcomed by Iraqis after Saddam's fall.
Criticism of the INC is focused on its leader,
Ahmad Chalabi, a wealthy Iraqi exile who had not lived
in his native land for nearly 50 years. Now he is a
member of the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council.
Adding to the controversy around Chalabi is that he has
been convicted in absentia in Jordan for embezzlement of
US$300 million a bank.
Chalabi is widely
reported to have had the long-standing support of US
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Under Secretary of
Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, but is said to be
mistrusted by Secretary of State Colin Powell.
It was Powell who is said to have favored a much
larger coalition force to maintain order in Iraq after
Saddam's fall. Instead, Bush chose to go with a smaller
force, as recommended by Rumsfeld, because of Chalabi's
reported assurances that few Iraqis were expected to
resist the occupation.
On Wednesday, several
news reports said that the Bush administration was not
prepared to extend the program under which it gave
financial support to the INC. The program is due to
expire on June 30, the day the occupation authority
hands over sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz
confirmed those reports during an appearance before the
US Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He said
Washington believed it would be inappropriate to
continue funding a private political organization in
Iraq after Iraqis take over sovereignty of their
country. Wolfowitz also praised the quantity and quality
of intelligence that the INC provided, both before and
after Saddam's fall.
But it is the quality of
that intelligence that is at issue as the US severs its
formal relationship with Chalabi and his group,
according to Mark Burgess, an analyst at the Center for
Defense Information, a policy research center in
Burgess tells RFE/RL that members of
the Bush administration must be embarrassed that they
put so much trust in the INC. But he says the Bush
administration ultimately has no one to blame but
itself. "[Chalabi] was telling [Bush administration
officials] something they wanted to hear. They just
wanted to believe it. It would have been nice had it
worked out that way. Maybe they let their wishful
thinking cloud their better judgment. Maybe they thought
it was worth the risk. Maybe they thought, 'Well, you
know, if it looks, six months down the line, like it's
not going to work - a year down the line - we'll stop
funding him, and we'll wipe our hands of him'," Burgess
Burgess says it is just as easy to believe
that the US administration is unceremoniously dumping
Chalabi to prevent further embarrassment as it is to
accept Wolfowitz's explanation that it would be improper
to support a private political group after handing over
Either way, Burgess says, Chalabi
is politically sophisticated enough to recognize that
now is the time for Bush himself to seize an opportunity
and rid himself of a political liability. "Mr Chalabi is
a grown-up in a tough world. He must realize that
political expediency is what is [most important].
Getting rid of Chalabi - whether or not it's for good
reasons or for bad, on your part - it's got to improve
matters at this point," Chalabi said.
Kipper is less cynical about the Bush administration's
motives in deciding not to extend its relationship with
the INC. Kipper is the director of the Middle East Forum
at the Council on Foreign Relations, a New York-based
Kipper tells RFE/RL that she accepts
Wolfowitz's explanation because, she says, there is
really no other sensible explanation. The US, she says,
cannot possibly continue to support the INC after an
Iraqi government is sworn in.
"This is a
long-term support [for the INC] - pre-war and during the
war - for years and years and years. So, as we turn over
sovereignty, [ending the financial support is] an
essential step. We are going to leave Iraq to the
Iraqis, because if the Iraqis are sovereign and have
their own government, the US should not support one
political group or another, financially or in any other
way," Kipper said.
Kipper also says she is
uncomfortable with the common assessment of Chalabi as
being self-serving. She said that whatever disagreements
one may have with him, he made a significant
contribution to bringing down a man she calls a tyrant.
"Many parts of our government and analysts have
had their differences with [Chalabi], but nobody can
take away from him that he put the tyrannical, Stalinist
regime of Saddam Hussein on the map and got the
attention of Americans. And he was very, very important
in promoting a different kind of future for Iraq,"