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Chalabi's back -- again

Robert Dreyfuss

chalabipic2.jpeg

February 23, 2007

In today's WSJ, Yochi Dreazen has piece about the latest return of Ahmed Chalabi, this time a special adviser to the Baghdad surge. In fact, Chalabi never really went away. But his new job puts him back at the center of things.

Those seeking background on Chalabi, and his long ties to the neocons, ought to take a look at my 2002 profile of the man for The American Prospect, the first significant piece on him in the U.S. media.

Here's the lede from Dreazen's piece:

In his latest remarkable political reincarnation, onetime U.S. favorite Ahmed Chalabi has secured a position inside the Iraqi government that could help determine whether the Bush administration's new push to secure Baghdad succeeds.

In a new post created earlier this year, Mr. Chalabi will serve as an intermediary between Baghdad residents and the Iraqi and U.S. security forces mounting an aggressive counterinsurgency campaign across the city. The position is meant to help Iraqis arrange reimbursement for damage to their cars and homes caused by the security sweeps in the hope of maintaining public support for the strategy.

Mr. Chalabi's writ is supposed to be limited mainly to security, according to aides to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, but he is already speaking ambitiously about playing a larger role in economic, health and reconstruction efforts as well. In his new capacity, Mr. Chalabi answers directly to Mr. Maliki and is already taking part in weekly planning meetings with senior American officials such as Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq.

Mr. Chalabi's position was created as part of a broad push by Mr. Maliki's government to capitalize on any positive momentum created by the addition of 21,500 additional American forces to Iraq, of which some 3,000 have arrived so far. In the weeks after President Bush disclosed his plans to "surge" additional forces to Iraq, Mr. Maliki created five new government committees charged with making the plan work on the ground. They include panels focused on economic development, the restoration of basic services such as electricity, and, in Mr. Chalabi's case, the critical task of maintaining public backing for the initiative.

The new position is vaguely defined, and it is too early to tell how much power Mr. Chalabi will ultimately wield. How much money will be available to pay claims and how it might be awarded and disbursed remains to be finalized, too. But he is a skilled political infighter who has often shown a talent for making the most out of whatever hand he is dealt. Mr. Chalabi also maintains close ties with key political allies of Mr. Maliki such as radical Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, which gives him extra sway within Mr. Maliki's government. Indeed, U.S. Embassy officials suggest Mr. Chalabi's closeness to Mr. Sadr is a major reason he was offered the liaison post.

Already, some U.S. officials are expressing concern about Mr. Chalabi's new role, fearing he will undercut the elaborate system of elected and appointed local governments that American officials have been cultivating over the past three years. American and Iraqi critics also worry that Mr. Chalabi, a Shiite, will use his clout to ensure that Sunni Muslim neighborhoods of the city are hit hardest by the new security crackdown, a move that would further inflame Iraq's sectarian tensions.


:: Article nr. 30887 sent on 24-feb-2007 04:03 ECT

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Link: robertdreyfuss.com/blog/2007/02/chalabis_back_again.html



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