- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 8, 2005

With a suite at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and a number of meetings with senior Bush administration officials scheduled today, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Chalabi is not acting like a man under investigation for possibly leaking critical U.S. intelligence secrets to Iran.

Mr. Chalabi, who has both strong defenders and fierce detractors over his role in promoting the Iraq war, “has no fears” of legal jeopardy over the Iran charges as he begins an eight-day visit to Washington and New York, longtime spokesman Francis Brookes said yesterday.

“We strongly welcome any inquiry into these charges, because we know they are false,” Mr. Brookes said. “We’re not hiding from anybody, not in Baghdad and not here.”

The FBI is in charge of the 17-month-old probe into charges Mr. Chalabi told Iranian agents in Baghdad that U.S. intelligence had broken secret diplomatic codes used by Tehran. Iran immediately changed its codes, depriving U.S. analysts of critical information on Tehran’s activities inside Iraq.

An FBI spokesman yesterday confirmed there is an “active, open investigation” of Mr. Chalabi, but refused comment on what has been learned. Mr. Chalabi and many U.S. figures involved in U.S.-Iran relations say they have not been contacted by FBI investigators.

State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said the Iran charges were “a law-enforcement matter” that would not stop today’s meeting of Mr. Chalabi with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

He noted Mr. Chalabi’s Cabinet responsibilities include Iraq’s economy and the critical oil sector. “So there is a key item on the agenda to engage with this gentleman, and I think American interests are well served by doing so,” Mr. Ereli said.

Mr. Chalabi has also organized a political bloc to run for seats in the Dec. 15 parliamentary election, and may contend for prime minister.

Any FBI agents seeking a word with Mr. Chalabi can stake out the lobbies of some of the most powerful offices in the U.S. government.

Treasury Secretary John W. Snow officially invited Mr. Chalabi to Washington, and Mr. Brookes said the Iraqi minister’s agenda includes meetings with Miss Rice, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, and delegations from the Senate and the House.

Mr. Chalabi also plans meetings in New York, in part to speak with bankers and lenders holding parts of the huge debt Iraq ran up under Saddam.

It was then-National Security Adviser Miss Rice who in June 2004 said in a closed briefing on Capitol Hill that the FBI had opened an investigation into Mr. Chalabi’s ties to Iran.

Mr. Chalabi, a former banker, has long been a polarizing figure for the Bush administration and in the larger debate over the Iraq war.

To supporters, including many in the Pentagon, his exile Iraqi National Congress played a key role in building opposition to Saddam. Mr. Chalabi’s stated vision for Iraq’s government — secular, democratic and federalist — matches Mr. Bush’s own program for political change in the Middle East.

But Mr. Chalabi’s numerous critics see him as an opportunist who drew the United States into war by exaggerating Saddam’s military arsenal and then angled himself into power in Baghdad. He has been dogged by personal financial scandals, in particular a 1992 conviction in Jordan for bank fraud.

Democrats critical of the war in Iraq have criticized the A-list reception being given Mr. Chalabi.

Rep. George Miller, California Democrat, said on the House floor Monday that the Iraqi minister should be “detained” until he testifies on pre-war intelligence regarding Saddam.

“While [Mr. Chalabi] is sashaying around the streets of Washington D.C., the Senate and House intelligence committees may want to issue a subpoena for his presence,” Mr. Miller said.

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