Sunday, May 23, 2004

BAGHDAD — The Kurdish security chief for embattled Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi is being sought by Iraqi and coalition authorities for suspected links to Iran’s intelligence service, a senior Iraqi official said yesterday.

There is an arrest warrant for Araz Habib because “he has relations with the Iranian government” and “works for the Iranian intelligence,” the official said on the condition of anonymity.

Mr. Chalabi also told reporters Thursday that Mr. Habib was named in a warrant shown to him when Iraqi police, backed by U.S. soldiers, raided his home in western Baghdad. Mr. Chalabi did not disclose the charges against Mr. Habib, who has not been taken into custody.

A Chalabi aide, Haidar Musawi, said he did not know Mr. Habib’s whereabouts. However, Mr. Musawi called the charges a “ridiculous” attempt to undermine Mr. Chalabi, a longtime Pentagon favorite who is now out of favor with the U.S.-run Coalition Provisional Authority.

“These allegations are ridiculous and are coming from a body that wants to fight and tarnish the reputation of a political personality that has its clear political stances,” Mr. Musawi said. “They are resorting to such means to get back at Dr. Ahmed Chalabi through getting to the officials and employees of” his Iraqi National Congress.

Mr. Chalabi was once groomed to be the leader of post-Saddam Hussein Iraq and provided much of the information about Iraq’s purported weapons of mass destruction program with which President Bush justified the Iraq war.

However, with no major weapons stocks found so far and the Iraq crisis worsening, the Bush administration appears anxious to jettison Mr. Chalabi as Iraqis prepare to take sovereignty June 30.

Mr. Chalabi’s long-standing contacts with Iran have left some in the U.S. government suspicious about his intentions, but Mr. Chalabi has denied accusations that he handed over sensitive information to Iran about the U.S. occupation.

U.S. officials have complained privately that Mr. Chalabi was interfering with an inquiry into money skimmed from the U.N. oil-for-food program by pursuing his own probe. Mr. Chalabi’s campaign to purge former members of Saddam’s Ba’ath Party appears to have backfired with the Americans now seeking officials of the former regime for key roles in security.

Mr. Chalabi also recently accused the coalition of not going far enough in its plans to give Iraqis political power on June 30, although U.S. officials insist they will grant full sovereignty.

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