- The Washington Times - Monday, May 24, 2004

Former Bush administration ally Ahmed Chalabi yesterday said although U.S. forces successfully liberated Iraq from Saddam Hussein’s regime, the subsequent military occupation of the country “has been a failure.”

Mr. Chalabi, whose home and offices in Baghdad were raided last week by U.S. troops and Iraqi police, said the administration has turned on him because he refuses “to have Iraq become a state of terror run by covert action agencies under diplomatic cover.”

“That is the reason that all this is happening,” he told ABC’s “This Week.” He also appeared on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” CNN’s “Late Edition” and “Fox News Sunday.”

Mr. Chalabi, whose Iraqi National Congress (INC) — a coalition of anti-Saddam political parties — was funded by the United States until recently, denied having given phony intelligence to U.S. officials on Saddam’s weapons programs before the war and flatly dismissed accusations that he has worked as a spy for Iran.

“It’s not true, it’s a false charge, it’s a smear,” he told ABC, saying the accusation had been promoted by CIA Director George J. Tenet. Mr. Chalabi then appeared to challenge Mr. Tenet to a faceoff over the matter before U.S. Congress.

“Let Mr. Tenet come to Congress, and I’m prepared to come there and lay out all the facts and all the documents that we have,” Mr. Chalabi said. “Let Congress decide whether this is true or whether they’re being misled by George Tenet.”

Further, Mr. Chalabi said he’s “mystified” by accusations that agents within the INC deliberately gave U.S. officials bad information on Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, which composed the backbone of President Bush’s case for invading Iraq.

Mr. Chalabi’s increasingly combative stance toward the United States has been perceived by some as an effort to distance himself from the U.S. authorities in order to gain favor with Iraqis.

When “Meet The Press” host Tim Russert asked whether he will seek office in Iraq, Mr. Chalabi said, “No, I am not a candidate for any government office.”

U.S. lawmakers expressed distrust toward Mr. Chalabi yesterday.

“He’s very smart. He understands power politics as well as anybody in this country,” Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican, told CNN.

“But I think what we have here is a guy who has a record. … Trouble has followed him everywhere he’s been,” Mr. Hagel said. “There were a number of us who warned this administration about him — people in the State Department, others who dealt with him, King Abdullah of Jordan.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, called Mr. Chalabi a “charlatan” and a “manipulator.”

“I don’t believe he’s a man you can trust,” she told CNN. “We made a horrendous mistake in providing him with tens of millions of dollars and enabling him to build a corps of infiltrators, allegedly to give us intelligence, which in many cases was deeply flawed.”

Mr. Hagel, who also is a member of the intelligence committee and of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the accusations that Mr. Chalabi shared U.S. secrets with Iran “as serious as it gets.”

“What is again so ironic,” Mr. Hagel said, is that he was “on our payroll for years.”

Both Mr. Hagel and Mrs. Feinstein said Congress would investigate the charges that Mr. Chalabi passed classified information to Iran.

Mr. Chalabi said he has met with Iranian officials the same way other Iraqi politicians in Baghdad have.

“But we have passed no secret information, no classified documents to them from the United States,” he told NBC. “Furthermore, we have not had any classified information given to us by the United States.”

Meanwhile, the FBI has opened an investigation into whether U.S. officials illegally transmitted state secrets to the INC, according to a report in today’s editions of Time magazine.

The magazine quotes a senior U.S. official as saying Mr. Chalabi and his intelligence chief Aras Karim Habib are suspected of giving Iran “highly classified data” that “was known to only a few within the U.S. government.”

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi yesterday in Tehran denied that Iran had received any secret information from Mr. Chalabi.

U.S. soldiers and Iraqi police seized computers and files during raids on Mr. Chalabi’s home and offices on Thursday, two days after U.S. officials announced that the Pentagon had cut off $340,000 of monthly funding to the INC.

Before the war, the Bush administration appeared to be grooming Mr. Chalabi as a potential leader of post-Saddam Iraq. U.S. officials now seem eager to push him out of the picture before the June 30 deadline to return the country to Iraqi sovereignty.

Mr. Bush is expected to deliver a speech tonight laying out strategies for the transfer of power from the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority to a newly appointed interim Iraqi government. The new government will take over from the Iraqi Governing Council until nationwide elections are held early next year.

Mr. Chalabi, who founded the INC while living as an exile in London during the early 1990s, has been a member of the Governing Council since it was created by U.S. authorities in Baghdad upon the overthrow of Saddam’s regime.

In a letter last week to L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator in Iraq, Mr. Chalabi’s lawyers condemned the raid on his house and demanded financial restitution and an inquiry.

“This tawdry action, committed by Iraqi policemen under the command of United States soldiers and several men who were identified as part of the FBI and the CIA, was illegal and unwarranted,” the lawyers, Markham & Read of Boston, wrote in the letter, excerpts of which were published by Reuters yesterday.

“We hereby demand that you cause to have promptly returned to him all property taken from his home and his office. … We will, once the physical damage is assessed, present a bill for the damages,” the letter says.

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