- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 20, 2004

BAGHDAD — Armed U.S. soldiers and Iraqi police yesterday smashed down the doors of the home and offices of Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmed Chalabi, a longtime U.S. political ally, and seized computers and documents from the organization.

The security forces were reported to have been acting on warrants from an Iraqi judge, but U.S. officials declined to comment on the purpose of the raid.

Mr. Chalabi and his aides reacted with outrage, saying they no longer had any relationship with the American ruling authority in Iraq.

“It was an armed act of aggression, an armed attack on Mr. Chalabi and his property,” said spokesman Entifadh Qanbar. “They took away everything, smashed the pictures on the wall and the table, and even took the Koran.”

Mr. Qanbar said armed plainclothes CIA agents participated in the raid, but U.S. officials would not confirm that, referring all questions to the Iraqi authorities. However, witnesses reported seeing Americans in casual clothes and flak jackets standing outside the residence during the raid.

A U.S. defense official in Washington told The Washington Times on the condition of anonymity that the raid resulted from suspicions that Mr. Chalabi was blackmailing people involved in the disbanded U.N. oil-for-food program, the subject of several graft investigations.

“The investigation centers on suspicions that Chalabi was extorting money from Iraqis who have been implicated” in the scandal, the official said.

The raid marked a new low in relations between the United States and Mr. Chalabi, an exiled leader who, at one time, had been favored by Pentagon officials to serve as president of a democratic Iraq.

Squads of soldiers and police moved in at midmorning to seal off the neighborhood around the Iraqi National Congress (INC) headquarters and a nearby house used by Mr. Chalabi.

“I was asleep, I opened the door, and police came into my home carrying pistols,” Mr. Chalabi told reporters later.

“They went through the rooms, and I told them to get out, but they said they were slaves under orders.”

He said the police took documents related to the oil-for-food program, a report by the Oil Ministry to the Governing Council and letters from the council.

He charged that the coalition was angry about his aggressive probe into the oil-for-food program, which threatens to embarrass the United Nations, and because he has been “calling for policies to liberate the Iraqi people, to get full sovereignty now.”

Mr. Chalabi is a leading member of the Iraqi Governing Council, which is expected to be dissolved when the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) hands over power to an interim Iraqi government June 30.

“I am America’s best friend in Iraq; if the CPA finds it necessary to direct an armed attack against my home, you can see the state of relations between the CPA and the Iraqi people,” Mr. Chalabi said at a press conference.

The raid comes just days after the Pentagon acknowledged that it was cutting off a monthly stipend to the INC of about $340,000. However, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said in Washington that he had received no advance notice of the operation.

“I certainly was not aware that there was going to be a raid on a home, if, in fact, there was,” Mr. Rumsfeld said after a Senate Armed Services Committee meeting.

Mr. Qanbar, the INC spokesman, blamed the worsening relationship on U.S. Administrator L. Paul Bremer, whom he accused of trying to cut the INC out of the political process in the run-up to the June 30 turnover.

“It was a politically motivated raid. They want to intimidate us. They are looking for people who obey them,” he said. “And they have started to take over the process rather than help the process. It’s a matter of Bremer being in a position to compete with the Iraqis. There’s a conflict of interest.”

CPA spokesman Dan Senor said the raid was the result of an Iraq-led investigation that included information provided by the Ministry of Finance and was carried out by Iraqis.

“My understanding is they are the ones who seized any documents,” he said in Baghdad.

He also said Mr. Chalabi and the INC were not the targets of the raid, but did not explain who or what the police were looking for. Chalabi aides said they were told that the police were looking for wanted INC officials.

U.S. and coalition officials have been at odds with Mr. Chalabi over the investigation of suspected corruption in the U.N. oil-for-food program.

The U.S.-backed investigation has collected more than 20,000 files from Saddam Hussein’s old regime and hired the American accounting firm Ernst & Young to review them.

But Mr. Chalabi has played a leading role in a separate probe by the Iraqi Governing Council, which appointed KPMG as the accounting firm. Many key documents are said to still be under Mr. Chalabi’s control.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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