'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Monday, January 24, 2005

Chalabis Wobble But They Don't Fall Down 

Didn't post about the current Chalabi story because I found it really confusing and wanted to wait and see how it was going to play out, but a few days have gone by and I still don't really get it, so what the hell...

For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, the story started last Friday like this

Iraq's interim defense minister said on Friday the government would arrest Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi after the Eid al-Adha holiday for allegedly maligning the defense ministry.

"We will arrest him and hand him over to Interpol. We will arrest him based on facts that he wanted to malign the reputation of the defense ministry and defense minister," Hazim al-Shaalan told Al Jazeera television, adding the measures would start after the Muslim holiday which began on Jan. 20.

and then swerved this way

Iraq’s Interior Minister Falah al-Naquib said on Saturday there was no arrest warrant for Ahmed Chalabi after the country’s defence minister warned the maverick politician would be jailed for slandering the government.

"I didn’t receive any warrants of this sort," Naquib told a press conference. The denial of a warrant came after Defence Minister Hazem al-Shaalan said the Baghdad government would shortly arrest one-time Pentagon favourite Chalabi for staining his ministry’s reputation.

Shaalan told Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television on late Friday. Shaalan did not say how Chalabi had tried to defame him, but a spokesman for Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC) told al-Jazeera the outburst dealt with allegations Chalabi made about the secret transfer of millions of dollars out of the country.

which is where it stands now, except that since it has become increasingly clear that he dodged another bullet, Ahmed has gotten all uppity:

Controversial Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi hit back Sunday at the country's defense minister Hazem Shaalan over threats to arrest him.

Chalabi, a dark horse candidate for prime minister, denied he had fled to the southern city of Basra after Shaalan threatened to jail the one-time Pentagon favourite for slandering his ministry.

"My answer to Shaalan is that he knows nothing about law or how a state is to be administered and he cannot overcome Iraqi authority and thus he cannot arrest anybody," a defiant Chalabi told reporters in the southern port of Basra.

Chalabi reiterated his accusations that Shaalan and other government officials had engaged in suspicious activities, transferring large sums of money out of the country to buy weapons for the Iraqi army.

I honestly don't know what to make of all this, although I haven't been following Iraqi politics the way I used to.

Juan Cole, of course, provides excellent commentary but the whole thing still seems murky. Cole speculates that the current Chalabi affair was either a simple attack by Shaalan executed for personal reasons without the the consent of the Allawi administration or it was an attempt by Allawi et al. to tarnish the image of the United Iraqi Alliance, which they view as a puppet of Iran, a week before the election, a sort of January surprise:

On the other hand, for the Allawi government to make this particular response is also troubling. Chalabi is a candidate for parliament on the United Iraqi Alliance list, which groups the major Shiite parties. Shaalan has hinted around that the UIA is a stalking horse for Iran, and choosing the week before the election to announce the arrest of one of the list's top-ranking figures (# 10)--on thirteen-year-old charges-- could be seen as a way of attempting to damage its popularity. That is, getting Chalabi could actually be a way of getting Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the UIA leader who also heads the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (which had been based in Iran for over two decades). We know what Shaalan thinks of Iran and can imagine what he thinks of al-Hakim.

Moreover, it wasn't criminal for Chalabi to advocate dissolving the Iraqi army (though it was highly unwise and possibly sleazy), and it is disturbing that Shaalan is throwing that charge into the mix. Shaalan did not say so, but given his anti-Iran impetus, and given the charges against Chalabi that he has passed sensitive information on to Tehran, it could be that Shaalan thinks Chalabi pressed for the dissolution of the Iraq military because Tehran urged it. A former ambassador told me he that Chalabi was getting money from Iran, so he may have owed the ayatollahs. Of course, most of Iraq's neighbors would have welcomed and perhaps secretly lobbied for the dissolution of the Iraqi military, including Kuwait and Israel.

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