You Can’t Keep a Good Con Down


Our old friend Ahmad Chalabi, embezzler, thief, swindler, master con artist and possible double agent, still isn’t in jail if that’s what you thought. No, like the trouper he is, he has re-written the script and taken his act on the road where he is performing as The People’s Friend–and Muqtada al-Sadr’s ally.

Snubbed by the Bush administration neoconservatives who once embraced him [Untrue: Perle is still defending him, as are Wolfowitz and Libby–MA], and excluded from the interim government, he is building a grass-roots coalition of Shiite Muslim groups who lack a voice in the new Iraq.At the same time, he’s reaching out to Iraq’s most prominent anti-American Shiite cleric, Muqtada Sadr, whose followers come mainly from Baghdad’s urban underclass and the impoverished south of the country. Political analysts here believe that the new approach will eventually win support from a significant segment of Sadr’s followers if Chalabi chooses to run for office — and, as expected, Sadr chooses to wield his power from the pulpit instead.

That would give Chalabi and his new organization, the Shiite Political Council, mass support that could yield considerable clout in the majority Shiite community.

More established Shiite parties alternately discount Chalabi and describe him as a strong opponent. He is gathering up the political scraps, “mingling with little groups,” in the words of Ridha Taqi, director of political relations for a major Shiite party, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

But he acknowledged that if Chalabi can bring Sadr on board, he will be a formidable force. “If the Sadr movement abandons violence and makes an alliance with Ahmad Chalabi, he will gain something from that movement,” Taqi said. “Sadr is one of the big pillars of the Shiite family.” And, he added, “it’s not that Ahmad Chalabi is [just] thinking of cooperating with the Sadr group — he’s already working with them in an intense manner.”

Chalabi clearly hasn’t given up on his dream of one day ruling Iraq–and controlling its treasury. He has found a little opening and he’s exploiting it for all he’s worth. Remember, he still controls much of the bureaucracy in Iraq, having installed loyalists at key points in the new govt’s infrastructure who know where all the bodies are buried, and Allawi has made no significant attempt to remove or replace them–not a good sign, since it would be one of the surest ways to consolidate his power before the election that will undoubtedly come.

You can file this under Bad News From Iraq. I suspect that the Neocon Wonder Boys are as proud as peacocks that their protege just won’t give up but the rest of us should be seriously concerned that Chalabi hasn’t been stepped on yet. An alliance with al-Sadr bodes no good for either the US or the Iraqi people’s best interests. I’ve said before that I doubted he was doubling for Iranian Intelligence and I still do, but his contacts with them are real enough and they will use him if they get the opportunity. At the moment, I figure he’s probably feeding them information about Iraq’s dissident Shiite groups and they’re patting him on the head and making promises they don’t intend to keep, but if he manages to corral some power in the eventual coalition govt, their contacts could get a lot more serious.

Chalabi is steadily building his new coalition. The leadership of the Shiite Political Council includes several members of the former Governing Council who, like Chalabi, were left out of the interim government. But the bulk of the members come from small, little-known groups. Unsophisticated in politics, they are joining because they see the organization as a means to make their voices heard.And because they are Shiites, they hope that by banding together they will avoid being crushed the way they were under the previous regime.

“It has nothing to do with sectarianism. It’s just that Shiites represent the majority,” said Ali Aliausha, an earnest man in a pinstriped suit who spent much of the last 20 years in exile and says he lost two brothers to Hussein’s executioners. He was one of many people at a recent meeting of the council at Chalabi’s headquarters — known as the China House for its pagoda-like architecture.

“Dr. Ahmad Chalabi is an Iraqi citizen, and he has played a big role in this moment of change,” Aliausha said, admiration in his voice.

Oh, so it’s Dr Chalabi now, is it? Cute. That title carries a lot of freight in Arabic countries where it represents a combination of virtues like honesty, selflessness, and political integrity, to none of which Ahmad has any legitimate claim. His populist stance is as big a sham as the ‘information’ he had his minions in the INC invent and then pass along to the gullible neocon newcomers at C-TEG, but it may be awhile before the Shiite groups figure that out.

Little Ahmad better be careful how he steps, though. He’s playing with dynamite in al-Sadr, and the dynamite is sweating.

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