- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 18, 2003

On his recent swing through Switzerland and Iraq, Secretary of State Colin Powell’s actions undercut his otherwise fine rhetoric and his department’s insistence that it supports the cause of freedom for the Iraqi people.

In his remarks in Baghdad on Sunday, Mr. Powell struck a welcome tone. He said that the aim of the United States “is to help rebuild [Iraq] economically, its physical infrastructure, but most importantly, politically as well, so that we can move forward.” Particularly welcome was his call for handing over authority in a reasonable time frame to an Iraqi government that is “committed to democratic principles.”

Too bad his actions rendered his words meaningless.

Before heading to Baghdad, Mr. Powell was in Geneva, meeting with his counterparts from the so-called “Perm 5,” or the five permanent members of the United Nations. (The other four are Britain, China, Russia and France.) While he was there, he met with Adnan Pachachi, the octogenarian former foreign minister. Not only is Mr. Pachachi an Arabist who only recently recognized the right of either Kuwait or Israel to exist, but he is very close to the House of Saud. More importantly, Mr. Pachachi is a favorite of the State Department.

Although a member of the 25-member Iraqi Governing Council, Mr. Pachachi has had surprisingly little interaction with his colleagues after State pushed extremely hard for his inclusion on the transitional authority. Yet his unwillingness to act as a team player has not soured the State Department on him. In fact, the State Department essentially rewarded his behavior with a chance to meet with Mr. Powell separate from the governing council, a privilege extended to only a select few on the council.

Although Mr. Powell soon after met with the entire Iraqi Governing Council in Baghdad, he only met with two other members of the panel on an individual basis apart from the group. One was the foreign minister — meaning Mr. Powell’s counterpart — but the other was far less understandable. According to an administration official, Mr. Powell also met separately with Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, an Islamist and former spokesman for the Dawa Party. (The State Department’s press office denies that Mr. Powell met with Mr. al-Rubaie separate from the secretary’s meeting with the entire council.)

By affiliating with the Dawa Party, Mr. al-Rubaie chose to shill for an organization responsible for the 1983 bombing of the embassy in Kuwait that killed six and injured dozens. Yet he was granted an audience with Mr. Powell.

Left off of Mr. Powell’s schedule for any sort of similar separate meeting was Ahmad Chalabi, the founder of the pro-democracy Iraqi National Congress (INC) and a member of the governing council. But unfortunately for Mr. Chalabi, his insistence on sticking to his vision of a secular, democratic Iraq has cost him dearly with the professional diplomats at Foggy Bottom. Quite simply, they hate him.

Earlier this year, minutes of an internal State Department meeting from May 2002 surfaced in the Wall Street Journal, revealing what any objective observer could have detected: The State Department was trying to destroy Mr. Chalabi and the INC. Yael Lempert was quoted in the minutes of a meeting with auditors — whom the State Department had sicced on the INC for the second time in as many years — as telling the auditors that her division, the Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) bureau, “would appreciate any assistance the OIG [Office of Inspector General] could provide with NEA’s desire to ‘shut down the INC.’”

Mrs. Lempert was doing exactly as her superiors wanted: Since the Journal story ran, she has been promoted and is now one of the point people in Iraq for establishing democracy.

The State Department’s top spokesman, Richard Boucher, was cavalier about Mr. Powell’s failure to meet separately with Mr. Chalabi. At the daily press briefing Wednesday, Mr. Boucher downplayed the snub, stating, “So I wouldn’t get too excited about this, frankly.” In almost the same breath, he denied the Wall Street Journal story — something he actually managed to do with a straight face — and further added that The State Department has “never made an argument against Mr. Chalabi or members of the INC.” He might be right, but only in a technical sense.

State Department bureaucrats, led for the past two years by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, have taken to trashing the INC and Mr. Chalabi in every outlet they could find. But Mr. Boucher’s denial was correct, inasmuch as the assaults were “off the record.”

The biggest complaints made against Mr. Chalabi and his counterparts at the INC were that they were exiles. Ironically, though, so are both Mr. Pachachi and Mr. al-Rubaie, yet both are showered with affection by Foggy Bottom. The primary difference is that they, unlike Mr. Chalabi, don’t support secular democracy. This also means that they don’t support what Mr. Powell has stated that he wants in Iraq.

Joel Mowbray occasionally writes for The Washington Times.

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