Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi politician who from exile helped persuade the United States to invade Iraq in 2003, and then unsuccessfully tried to attain power as his country was nearly torn apart by sectarian violence, died on Tuesday at his home in Baghdad. He was 71.
The cause was heart failure, Iraqi officials said.
Mr. Chalabi (pronounced CHAHL-a-bee) was the Iraqi perhaps most associated with PresidentGeorge W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq and topple its longtime dictator, Saddam Hussein.
A mathematician with a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, Mr. Chalabi, the son of a prominent Shiite family, cultivated close ties with journalists in Washington and London; American lawmakers; the neoconservative advisers who helped shape Mr. Bush’s foreign policy; and a wide network of Iraqi exiles, many of whom were paid for intelligence about Mr. Hussein’s government.
Mr. Chalabi’s relationship with the Americans stretched over decades. In 1998, he helped persuade Congress to pass the Iraq Liberation Act, which was signed by President Bill Clinton and declared it the policy of the United States to replace Mr. Hussein’s government with a democratic one.
His group, the Iraqi National Congress, would get more than $100 million from the C.I.A. and other agencies between its founding in 1992 and the start of the war. He cultivated friendships with a circle of hawkish Republicans — Dick Cheney, Douglas J. Feith, William J. Luti, Richard N. Perle and Paul D. Wolfowitz — who were central in the United States’ march to war, Mr. Cheney as vice president and the others as top Pentagon officials.
Mr. Chalabi’s contention, shared by United States intelligence agencies, was that Mr. Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. Mr. Hussein had fatally gassed Kurds and slaughtered Shiites and other Iraqis, and he had refused to fully cooperate with United Nations weapons inspectors.
But most of the case for war was predicated on flawed intelligence, including the testimony of defectors whose accounts could ultimately not be substantiated.
A 2006 report by the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that “false information” from sources affiliated with the Iraqi National Congress “was used to support key intelligence community assessments on Iraq and was widely distributed in intelligence products prior to the war.” It found that the group “attempted to influence United States policy on Iraq by providing false information through defectors directed at convincing the United States that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and had links to terrorists.”
Probably the most notorious defector was Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, code-named Curveball, the brother of a Chalabi aide. His false account of mobile bioweapons laboratories was cited by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell at the United Nations. But the Senate report found an “insufficient basis” to determine whether Curveball had provided his information at the behest of the Iraqi National Congress.
Mr. Janabi was just one of several defectors whose accounts were promoted by Mr. Chalabi’s group: Sabah Khalifa Khodada Alami and Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy claimed that Islamist terrorists had trained in the mid-1990s at a camp in Iraq called Salman Pak; Khidhir Hamza said that Mr. Hussein had tried to build a nuclear weapon in the early 1990s; and Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri told The New York Times that he had visited at least 20 secret weapons facilities in Iraq.
The Times said in a 2004 editors’ note that “accounts of Iraqi defectors were not always weighed against their strong desire to have Saddam Hussein ousted,” and that “we, along with the administration, were taken in.”
As it became clear that Iraq did not have an active chemical, biological ornuclear weapons program, and as the occupying American forces did not receive the welcome that the Iraqi opposition had predicted, the Bush administration distanced itself from Mr. Chalabi.
One year after the invasion, American special forces raided his home in Baghdad, apparently searching for evidence that he was sharing intelligence with Iran.
Mr. Chalabi was the target of an assassination attempt at least once, in 2008, when a suicide bomber narrowly missed him, killing six of his bodyguards.
Spurned by the Americans, Mr. Chalabi allied himself with Moktada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite leader and ally of Iran whose Mahdi Army led two bloody uprisings, and who remains a significant force in Iraqi politics.
“Chalabi’s life work, an Iraq liberated from Saddam Hussein, a modern and democratic Iraq, is spiraling toward disintegration,” Dexter Filkins wrote in The Times Magazine in 2006, after interviewing Mr. Chalabi at his home in London. “Indeed, for many in the West, Chalabi has become the personification of all that has gone wrong in Iraq: the lies, the arrogance, the occupation as disaster.”
In 2010, after a disputed parliamentary election that threatened to end the reign of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, Mr. Chalabi led an effort to purge Sunni politicians from positions of authority. By doing so, he helped Mr. Maliki consolidate power and alienated Sunnis — two factors that set the stage for the renaissance of the Sunni insurgency that later metastasized into the Islamic State.
As recently as last year, Mr. Chalabi’s name was floated as a candidate for prime minister, and at his death, he was the head of the finance committee in Parliament.
On Tuesday, Iraqi leaders emphasized Mr. Chalabi’s role in ousting Mr. Hussein, who was captured in 2003 and executed in 2006.
President Fuad Masum said in a statement that “Chalabi had a pivotal role with many Iraqi leaders in fighting the dictatorship.”
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a statement, “He dedicated his life to opposing the dictatorial regime, and he played a great role in building a democratic process in Iraq.”
Ahmad Abdul Hadi Chalabi was born in Baghdad on Oct. 30, 1944. His family was part of a tiny, secular Shiite elite that had prospered under the Ottoman Turks and then, after World War I, the Hashemite monarchy installed by the British.
Mr. Chalabi attended an elite Jesuit high school, Baghdad College, where his schoolmates included fellow Shiites like Ayad Allawi, who would become a relative by marriage and serve as an acting prime minister, and Adel Abdul Mahdi, who would become a finance minister, a vice president and, now, the oil minister.
In 1958, the same year that army officers overthrew King Faisal II, the Chalabi family went into exile. Mr. Chalabi studied math at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before receiving his doctorate from the University of Chicago, in 1969. (His dissertation was in an area of algebra known as group theory.) He later taught at the American University of Beirut and published several mathematical papers. During his time overseas, the Baath Party staged a coup, in 1968, and by 1979, Mr. Hussein had consolidated power.
The disastrous Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88, Mr. Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and the American-led war that ousted his forces from Kuwait in 1991 galvanized Iraqi exiles. In 1992, Mr. Chalabi and other exiles founded the Iraqi National Congress, a London-based coalition for groups seeking to oust Mr. Hussein.
By now, Mr. Chalabi was in regular contact with the Americans, though his actions were often unwelcome. In 1995, while receiving pay from the C.I.A. in the Kurdish city of Erbil, Mr. Chalabi began an unauthorized — and unsuccessful — attack on Mr. Hussein’s forces.
The fiasco led to nothing more than a decision by Turkey to send troops into northern Iraq. The next year, Mr. Chalabi interfered with a C.I.A. plot to topple Mr. Hussein. It failed, more than 150 opposition fighters were killed, and Mr. Chalabi’s relationship with the C.I.A. never recovered.
The American-led overthrow of Mr. Hussein’s government in 2003 gave Mr. Chalabi a chance to re-enter politics. The Americans named him to the 25-member Iraqi Governing Council. But images of toppled statues and cheering Iraqis quickly gave way to violent resistance to the occupying authorities, led by former members of the government, and to increasing sectarian violence.
Within a year of the war, the Americans cut off Mr. Chalabi. In May 2004, they stopped monthly payments of $335,000 to the Iraqi National Congress, and days later raided his Baghdad home.
Mr. Chalabi, for his part, attributed the problems in Iraq to the Americans for staying too long and for failing to immediately turn over power to Iraqis — even though most observers doubted that exiles like Mr. Chalabi, who had been away for 45 years, could have kept the country together on their own.
Moreover, he never developed a strong political base. In the December 2005 parliamentary elections, the first under the country’s new Constitution, his Iraqi National Congress received just 30,000 of 12 million ballots.
Mr. Chalabi was never widely trusted nor liked by ordinary Iraqis, for whom it was common knowledge that he had been convicted in absentia for fraud in Jordan in 1992, and sentenced to 22 years in prison, for embezzling almost $300 million from Petra Bank, which he had founded. (Mr. Chalabi, who fled Jordan before he could be arrested, said the charges had been concocted by the Jordanian government under pressure from Mr. Hussein.)
Mr. Chalabi, who is survived by his wife, Leila Osseiran, and four children, may be remembered above all for a certain quality of relentlessness. As the Times journalist Michael R. Gordon and a retired general, Bernard E. Trainor, related in their 2012 book, “The Endgame,” members of the Iraqi Governing Council traveled to Washington in January 2004 for Mr. Bush’s State of the Union address, his first since the invasion. Seated in the gallery, near the first lady, Laura Bush, was Mr. Chalabi.
The next morning, at a meeting of the National Security Council, Mr. Bush turned to Richard L. Armitage, the deputy secretary of state, and asked how Mr. Chalabi had managed to get in. No one could say.
Ahmed Abdel Hadi Chalabi (Arabic: أحمد عبد الهادي الجلبي; 30 October 1944 – 3 November 2015) was an Iraqi politician.
He was interim Minister of Oil in Iraq in April–May 2005 and December 2005 – January 2006 and Deputy Prime Minister from May 2005 to May 2006. Chalabi failed to win a seat in parliament in the December 2005 elections, and when the new Iraqi cabinet was announced in May 2006, he was not given a post. Once dubbed the "George Washington of Iraq" by American supporters, he later fell out of favor and came under investigation by several U.S. government sources. He was also the subject of a 2008 biography by investigative journalist Aram Roston, The Man Who Pushed America to War: The Extraordinary Life, Adventures, And Obsessions of Ahmad Chalabi and a 2011 biography by 60 Minutes producer Richard Bonin, Arrows of the Night: Ahmad Chalabi's Long Journey to Triumph in Iraq.
Chalabi was a controversial figure, especially in the United States, for many reasons. In the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Iraqi National Congress (INC), with the assistance of lobbying powerhouse BKSH & Associates, provided a major portion of the information on which U.S. Intelligence based its condemnation of the Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, including reports of weapons of mass destruction and alleged ties to al-Qaeda. Most, if not all, of this information has turned out to be false and Chalabi has been called a fabricator. That, combined with the fact that Chalabi subsequently boasted, in an interview with the British Sunday Telegraph, about the impact that their alleged falsifications had on American policy, led to a falling out between him and the U.S. government. Furthermore, Chalabi was found guilty in thePetra banking scandal in Jordan. In January 2012, a French intelligence official stated that they believed Chalabi to be an Iranian agent.
Chalabi was the son of a prominent Shi'a family, one of the wealthy power elite of Baghdad, where he was born. His family ran Iraq’s oldest commercial bank under the British-backed Kingdom of Iraq. Chalabi left Iraq with his family in 1958, following the 14 July Revolution, and spent most of his life in the United States and theUnited Kingdom. In exile, following the Baath party takeover, his family acted as the Iraqi Shia clergy’s bankers. In the mid-1960s, he studied with cryptographerWhitfield Diffie at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from which he received a bachelor of science degree in mathematics. In 1969, he earned a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Chicago under the direction of George Glauberman, after which he took a position in the mathematics department at the American University of Beirut. He published three mathematics papers between 1973 and 1980, in the field of abstract algebra.
In 1971, Chalabi married Leila Osseiran, daughter of Lebanese politician Adil Osseiran. They had four children.
In 1977, he founded the Petra Bank in Jordan. In May 1989, the Governor of the Central Bank of Jordan, Mohammed Said Nabulsi, issued a decree ordering all banks in the country to deposit 35% of their reserves with the Central Bank. Petra Bank was the only bank that was unable to meet this requirement. An investigation was launched which led to accusations of embezzlement and false accounting. The bank failed, causing a $350 million bail-out by the Central Bank. Chalabi fled the country, in the boot of a Jordanian prince’s car, before the authorities could react. Chalabi was convicted and sentenced in absentia for bank fraud by a Jordanianmilitary tribunal. Chalabi maintained that his prosecution was a politically motivated effort to discredit him.
It was reported by BBC News in May 2005 that the Jordanian government was considering whether to pardon Chalabi, in part to ease the relations between Jordan and the new Iraqi government of which Chalabi was a member. According to one report, Chalabi proposed a $32 million compensation fund for depositers affected by Petra Bank's failure. The website for Petra Bank contains a press release stating that Chalabi would refuse the pardon. Although Chalabi always maintained the case was a plot to frame him by Baghdad, the issue was revisited when the U.S. State Department raised questions about the accounting practices of the Iraqi National Congress (INC). According to The New York Times, "Chalabi insisted on a public apology, which the Jordanians refused to give."
Chalabi headed the executive council of the INC, an umbrella Iraqi opposition group created in 1992 for the purpose of fomenting the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.The INC received major funding and assistance from the United States. Chalabi was involved in organizing a resistance movement among Kurds in northern Iraq in the early mid-1990s. When that effort was crushed and hundreds of his supporters were killed, Chalabi fled the country. Chalabi lobbied in Washington for the passage of the Iraq Liberation Act (passed October 1998). This earmarked US$97 million to support Iraqi opposition groups. During the period from March 2000 to September 2003, the U.S. State Department paid nearly $33 million to the INC, according to a General Accounting Office report released in 2004.
Invasion of Iraq
Before the Iraq War (2003), Chalabi enjoyed close political and business relationships with some members of the U.S. government, including some prominentneoconservatives within the Pentagon. Chalabi was said to have had political contacts within the Project for the New American Century, most notably with Paul Wolfowitz, a student of nuclear strategist Albert Wohlstetter, and Richard Perle. He also enjoyed considerable support among politicians and political pundits in the United States, most notably Jim Hoagland of The Washington Post, who held him up as a notable force for democracy in Iraq. He was a special guest of First Lady Laura Bush at the 2004 State of the Union Address.
The CIA was largely skeptical of Chalabi and the INC, but information allegedly from his group (most famously from a defector codenamed "Curveball") made its way into intelligence dossiers used by President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair to justify an invasion of Iraq. "Curveball", Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, fed officials hundreds of pages of bogus "firsthand" descriptions of mobile biological weapons factories on wheels and rails. Secretary of State Colin Powell later used this information in a U.N. presentation trying to garner support for the war, despite warnings from German intelligence that "Curveball" was fabricating claims. Since then, the CIA has admitted that the defector made up the story, and Powell said in 2011 the information should not have been used in his presentation. A later congressionally appointed investigation (Robb-Silberman) concluded that Curveball had no relation whatsoever to the INC, and that press reports linking Curveball to the INC were erroneous.
The INC often worked with the media, most notably with Judith Miller, concerning her WMD stories for The New York Times starting on 26 February 1998. After the war, given the lack of discovery of WMDs, most of the WMD claims of the INC were shown to have been either misleading, exaggerated, or completely made up while INC information about the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein's loyalists and Chalabi's personal enemies were accurate. Another of Chalabi's advocates was American Enterprise Institute's Iraq specialist Danielle Pletka. Chalabi received advice on media and television presentation techniques from the Irish scriptwriter and commentator Eoghan Harris prior to the invasion of Iraq.
As U.S. forces took control during the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, Chalabi returned under their aegis and was given a position on the Iraq interim governing council by the Coalition Provisional Authority. He served as president of the council in September 2003. He denounced a plan to let the UN choose an interim government for Iraq. "We are grateful to President Bush for liberating Iraq, but it is time for the Iraqi people to run their affairs," he was quoted as saying in The New York Times.
In August 2003, Chalabi was the only candidate whose unfavorable ratings exceeded his favorable ones with Iraqis in a State Department poll. In a survey of nearly 3,000 Iraqis in February 2004 (by Oxford Research International, sponsored by the BBC in the United Kingdom, ABC in the U.S., ARD of Germany, and the NHK in Japan), only 0.2 percent of respondents said he was the most trustworthy leader in Iraq (see survey link below, question #13). A secret document written in 2002 by the British Overseas and Defence Secretariat reportedly described Chalabi as "a convicted fraudster popular on Capitol Hill."
In response to the WMD controversy, Chalabi told London's Daily Telegraph in February 2004, "We are heroes in error. As far as we're concerned, we've been entirely successful. That tyrant Saddam is gone and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important. The Bush administration is looking for a scapegoat."
Falling out with the U.S. in 2004–2005
As Chalabi's position of trust with the Pentagon crumbled, he found a new political position as a champion of Iraq's Shi'ites (Chalabi himself was a Shi'ite). Beginning 25 January 2004, Chalabi and his close associates promoted the claim that leaders around the world were illegally profiting from the Oil for Food program. These charges were around the same time that UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi indicated that Chalabi would likely not be welcome in a future Iraqi government. Up until this time, Chalabi had been mentioned formally several times in connection with possible future leadership positions. Chalabi contended that documents in his possession detailed the misconduct, but he did not provide any documents or other evidence. The U.S. sharply criticized Chalabi's Oil for Food investigation as undermining the credibility of its own.
Additionally, Chalabi and other members of the INC were investigated for fraud involving the exchange of Iraqi currency, grand theft of both national and private assets, and many other criminal charges in Iraq. On 19 May 2004 the U.S. government discontinued their regular payments to Chalabi for information he provided. Iraqi police, supported by U.S. soldiers, raided his offices and residence on 20 May, taking documents and computers, presumably to be used as evidence. A major target of the raid was Aras Habib, Chalabi's long-term director of intelligence, who controlled the vast network of agents bankrolled by U.S. funding. The U.S. announced that they had stopped funding the INC, having previously paid the organization $330,000 per month.
In June 2004, it was reported that Chalabi gave U.S. state secrets to Iran in April, including the fact that one of the United States' most valuable sources of Iranian intelligence was a broken Iranian code used by their spy services. Chalabi allegedly learned of the code through a drunk American involved in the code-breaking operation. Chalabi denied all of the charges, which nothing ever came of.
An arrest warrant for alleged counterfeiting was issued for Chalabi on 8 August 2004, while at the same time a warrant was issued on murder charges against his nephew Salem Chalabi (at the time, head of the Iraqi Special Tribunal), while they both were out of the country. Chalabi returned to Iraq on 10 August planning to make himself available to Iraqi government officials, but he was never arrested. Charges were later dropped against Ahmed Chalabi, with Judge Zuhair al-Maliki citing lack of evidence.
On 1 September 2004, Chalabi told reporters of an assassination attempt made on him near Latifiya, a town south of Baghdad. Chalabi reported he was returning from a meeting with Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani (whose trust Chalabi enjoyed) in Najaf, where a few days earlier a cease-fire had taken effect, ending three weeks of confrontations between followers of Muqtada al-Sadr and the U.S. military, at the time.
He regained enough credibility to be made deputy prime minister on 28 April 2005. At the same time he was made acting oil minister, before the appointment of Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum in May 2005. On protesting IMF austerity measures, Al-Uloum was instructed to extend his vacation by a month in December 2005 by Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, and Chalabi was reappointed as acting oil minister. Al-Uloum returned to the post in January 2006.
In November 2005, Chalabi traveled to the U.S. and met with top U.S. government officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley. At this time Chalabi also traveled to Iran to meet with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Political activity in Iraq, 2005–2015
The Iraqi National Congress, headed by Chalabi, was a part of the United Iraqi Alliance in the 2005 legislative election. After the election, Chalabi claimed that he had the support of the majority of elected members of United Iraqi Alliance and staked claim to be the first democratically elected Prime Minister of Iraq; however, Ibrahim al-Jaafari later emerged as the consensus candidate for prime minister.
Prior to the December 2005 elections, the Iraqi National Congress left the United Iraqi Alliance and formed the National Congress Coalition, which ran in the elections but failed to win a single seat in Parliament, gaining less than 0.5% of the vote. Other groups joining the INC in this list included: Democratic Iraqi Grouping, Democratic Joint Action Front, First Democratic National Party, Independent List, Iraqi Constitutional Movement, Iraqi Constitutional Party, Tariq Abd al-Karim Al Shahd al-Budairi, and the Turkoman Decision Party.
In October 2007, Chalabi was appointed by Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki to head the Iraqi services committee, a consortium of eight service ministries and two Baghdad municipal posts tasked with the "surge" plan's next phase, restoring electricity, health, education and local security services to Baghdad neighborhoods. "The key is going to be getting the concerned local citizens—and all the citizens—feeling that this government is reconnected with them.... [Chalabi] agrees with that," said Gen. David Petraeus. Chalabi "is an important part of the process," said Col. Steven Boylan, Petraeus' spokesman. "He has a lot of energy." In April 2008, journalist Melik Kaylan wrote about Chalabi, "Arguably, he has, more than anyone in the country, evolved a detailed sense of what ails Baghdadis and how to fix things."
After the invasion Chalabi was placed in charge of "deBaathification"—the removal of senior office holders judged to have been close supporters of the deposed Saddam Hussein. The role fell into disuse, but in early 2010 Chalabi was accused of reviving this dormant post to eliminate his political enemies, especially Sunnis. The banning of some 500 candidates prior to the general election of 7 March 2010 at the initiative of Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress was reported to have badly damaged previously improving relations between Shias and Sunnis.
On 26 January 2012, the New York Times reported Western intelligence officials expressing concern that Chalabi was working with the leading opposition group in Bahrain,Al Wefaq National Islamic Society. A French intelligence official said, "When we hear that some members of the opposition are in touch with Hezbollah or with shady figures like the Iraqi Ahmed Chalabi, of whom we think he is acting on behalf of Iran, then this worries us". The connection between Chalabi and Al Wefaq was acknowledged byJawad Fairooz, secretary general of Wefaq and a former member of Parliament in Bahrain. Fairooz said, "Mr Chalabi has helped us with contacts in Washington like other people have done and we thank them."
Chalabi died on 3 November 2015, aged 71, having apparently suffered a heart attack at his home in Kadhimiya, Baghdad. When he died, he was a current Member of the Iraqi Parliament, serving as the chairperson of the Finance Committee.
Ahmed Abdel Hadi Chalabi (Arabic: أحمد عبد الهادي الجلبي; October 30, 1944 – November 3, 2015) was an Iraqi politician.
He was interim Minister of Oil in Iraq in April–May 2005 and December 2005 – January 2006 and Deputy Prime Minister from May 2005 to May 2006. Chalabi failed to win a seat in parliament in the December 2005 elections, and when the new Iraqi cabinet was announced in May 2006, he was not given a post. Once dubbed the "George Washington of Iraq" by American supporters, he later fell out of favor and came under investigation by several United States government sources. He was also the subject of a 2008 biography by investigative journalist Aram Roston: The Man Who Pushed America to War: The Extraordinary Life, Adventures, And Obsessions of Ahmad Chalabi and a 2011 biography by 60 Minutes producer Richard Bonin, Arrows of the Night: Ahmad Chalabi's Long Journey to Triumph in Iraq.
Chalabi was a controversial figure, especially in the United States, for many reasons. In the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Iraqi National Congress (INC), with the assistance of lobbying powerhouse BKSH & Associates, provided a major portion of the information on which United States Intelligence based its condemnation of the Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, including reports of weapons of mass destruction and alleged ties to al-Qaeda. Most, if not all, of this information has turned out to be false and Chalabi has been called a fabricator. That, combined with the fact that Chalabi subsequently boasted, in an interview with the British Sunday Telegraph, about the impact that their alleged falsifications had on American policy, led to a falling out between him and the United States government. Furthermore, Chalabi was found guilty in the Petra banking scandal in Jordan. In January 2012, a French intelligence official stated that they believed Chalabi to be an Iranian agent.