- The Washington Times - Monday, August 9, 2004

Salem Chalabi, the head of Iraq’s war-crimes tribunal, yesterday denounced legal charges brought against him and his uncle, Ahmed Chalabi, and warned that the accusations could undermine the prosecution of Saddam Hussein.

Both Chalabis vowed to return to Iraq to fight the charges, but Salem Chalabi said he needed security guarantees because his role overseeing Saddam’s trial made him fear for his life.

“My life is threatened daily in Baghdad because of what I’m doing and who benefited out of this,” the younger Mr. Chalabi told the British Broadcasting Corp.

“There may be an investigation [against me],” he said, “but the fact that it was leaked means that there is an element of a smear campaign against me and of trying to discredit the tribunal, which I think has happened now.”

The chief investigative judge of Iraq’s Central Criminal Court, who has feuded with both Chalabis in recent months, issued arrest warrants for the two during the weekend.

Salem Chalabi, a U.S.-educated lawyer, is accused of a role in the May 28 assassination of Haitham Fadhil, a senior Iraqi Finance Ministry official who had been investigating charges of corruption and theft involving the Iraqi National Congress (INC).

Ahmed Chalabi, the INC’s leading figure and a close Pentagon ally in the run-up to the war last year, faces counterfeiting charges based on evidence uncovered in a raid of the INC’s offices in Baghdad in May.

Analysts said the legal moves play into a murky power struggle involving the senior Mr. Chalabi and Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi — one in which Mr. Chalabi’s increasingly close ties to Iran played a major part. Mr. Chalabi had been on a visit to Tehran when the arrest warrant was issued.

Bush administration officials, who have distanced themselves from Mr. Chalabi in recent months, insisted yesterday that the arrest warrants were an “internal Iraqi matter,” according to State Department deputy spokesman J. Adam Ereli.

“This is not a question of past associations or friendships. This is a question of the Iraqi justice system at work,” he said.

Mr. Ereli said he did not expect the case against Salem Chalabi to undermine the pending trial of Saddam.

The Saddam tribunal “is a question about government policies and institutions; it’s not a question of personalities,” he said.

But Ziad al-Khasawneh, one of Saddam’s attorneys, told reporters in Jordan that the filing against Salem Chalabi was a “miracle from God” for his client.

“We have said time and again that the court was illegal and illegitimate, and now there’s evidence for everyone: The court is headed by a murderer,” he said.

The Los Angeles Times reported last week that Mr. Fadhil, the slain Finance Ministry official, had been preparing a dossier detailing illegal property seizures by the INC in the chaos after the fall of Saddam last year.

Iraqi investigators said Salem Chalabi was heard threatening Mr. Fadhil just days before the shooting, but Mr. Chalabi said in London that he did not remember ever meeting the investigator and had been at another government meeting at the time when he was supposed to have issued the threat.

“I’ve never been in [Mr. Fadhils] office. I don’t own any property in Iraq. … These allegations, to say the least, are ludicrous,” he told the Associated Press.

He said his tribunal’s aggressive efforts targeting Saddam and other members of the ousted Ba’ath Party would make him a marked man if he were jailed on his return to Iraq.

The charges against his uncle, Ahmed Chalabi, involve counterfeit old Iraqi dinars found during the raid on INC offices in May. The warrant charges that Mr. Chalabi was mixing the counterfeit bills with real notes and exchanging them for the new Iraqi currency.

In Tehran, the senior Mr. Chalabi said he had only a few clearly marked counterfeit bills in his residence, owing to his duties as a senior Finance Ministry adviser in the government at the time.

He accused ex-Ba’athists in the Allawi government and the CIA of pushing the “politically motivated” charges against him. Mr. Allawi’s political base is former Ba’ath Party members who turned against the regime.

“Without a doubt, I’m being set up,” Mr. Chalabi told reporters in Tehran. “The idea that I was involved in counterfeiting is ridiculous, and the charges are being made for political purposes.”

Bolstering Mr. Chalabi’s case, Sinan al-Shabibi, the governor of Iraq’s central bank, said the bank had not lodged any counterfeiting complaint and “never requested that such charges be brought.”

But Judge Zuhair al-Maliki, who issued the arrest warrants, stood by his actions. The Chalabis should “focus on the accusations, rather than the personality of the judge,” he said.

Despite his loss of U.S. patronage, Ahmed Chalabi remains a significant political force, said Juan Cole, a professor of history specializing in the Middle East at the University of Michigan.

Mr. Chalabi has cultivated close ties with Iran, which has deep links to Iraq’s Shi’ite Muslim majority, as well as to Iraq’s Shi’ite religious leaders and to the country’s Kurdish minority.

Al Webb reported from London.

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