Daily Archives: August 10, 2004

RIP, NOTA: Going Gently Into That Good Night

For those of you who became addicted to the fine writing and even finer level of thought and discussion at Notes on the Atrocities, this does not come as welcome news, and you probably already know it, but Jeff Alworth has decided to close NOTA down. For good. His reasons (given here) are inarguable, but there’s no question that he will be missed even as we respect his choice.

Jeff was always reaching for the truth behind the truth, trying to understand how this or that political or social development/event impacted our lives, where it had come from, where it was going, and how the pieces fit together. He was never content simply to sift the day’s happenings into this or that category, like so many of us. Instead, he worked to pull meaning out of chaos and connections out of isolationism.

Long before I found my own voice as a blogger, Jeff’s NOTA was one of the few blogs I eventually used as a template for my own, sort of. I wanted to do some of the same things he was trying to do. I was–am–not as widely knowledgeable as he is, nor as patient, so I fail more often than I succeed, but his example is always before me and I live up to it when I can.

I’ve said several times–and I’m going to say it again now so get ready to hear something you’ve heard before–that Jeff’s Daily Link was the inspiration for both the Women Blog, Too series and, eventually, LitBlogs‘ attempt to recognize talented bloggers and, hopefully, widen their audience if only a little. His generosity in sharing his success with those struggling to establish a small beach-head in a sea of blogs was extraordinary, and those of us lucky enough to have made his list are grateful for it.

He could be brilliant, he could be maddeningly obtuse, he could be startlingly perceptive or remorselessly pedestrian, but whatever he was at any given moment, he always wrote like an angel, and you gotta admire that in a blogger. Any one of us would be proud to manage half as well during our time in the ‘Sphere.

The death of NOTA is going to leave a gaping hole of good sense, rational discussion, and outstanding writing that isn’t going to be easy to fill. We can try–we owe it, in a sense, to the pioneering example he set, along with some others, that proved blogs could be something more than structureless diatribes and partisan whining–but whether or not we will succeed is a question I wouldn’t even attempt to answer. NOTA set the bar pretty goddammed high and most of us don’t jump all that well.

In the meantime, raise a glass to the death of an old friend and keep an eye on The American Street and Blue Oregon for new posts by the old friend’s creator. May his pen never waver and his ink never dry up.

Emma, we hardly knew ye.

The US Isn’t Behind Chalabi’s Arrest

An article in todays LAT wastes a lot of space airing the hysterical charges of one of Chalabi’s minions.

Mithal Alusi, a member of Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress party, said arrest warrants issued by an Iraqi court over the weekend were part of an international plot that is “bigger than anyone could imagine” to strip Chalabi of his popularity.

Yeah, yeah, blah blah blah. Poor persecuted little Ahmad. The LAT reporters, Henry Chu and Paul Richter, spent so much time on this foolishness that they missed one of the two more important stories around this arrest and buried the other at the bottom of the column.

The story they missed altogether has to do with Chalabi’s successful attempt to burrow into Iraq’s blossoming bureaucracy like a tick into a hound. Ahmad has spent the year-and-a-half since the invasion putting his followers, employees, family and friends in positions that control the everyday life of Iraqis, and while a lot of them will probably use this arrest as an excuse to dump him, a lot won’t. How are they going to handle it? Will they tie up the life of the city even more than it is with red tape and baksheesh? Will they make a concerted attempt to undermine Chalabi’s trial or Allawi’s govt or both? How are they going to respond?

By all accounts, Chalabi has been very shrewd, placing his most valued and trusted employees deep into the Finance Ministry, the Defense Ministry, and the legal system (that’s how Salem got to be in charge of Saddam’s trial), among other vital govt agencies. Yes, Ahmad made enemies in the process of doing that; he was riding high at the time, with the US wind at his back, and he wasn’t any too gentle in his maneuvering, apparently. There were reports that he stepped on a lot of toes, and that he may have used the old Iraqi secret police files that we gave him after the invasion (another untold story: Who ordered that and why?) to blackmail members of the IGC and others coming into the new puppet govt. Chalabists are now located in many of the key chokehold points on the govt grid, and if they worked together, they could bring the activities of the nascent govt to a grinding halt.

Chalabi’s arrest almost certainly has more to do with Allawi trying to break that power than it does with counterfeiting. Not that I think Ahmad is innocent of the charges (it’s just the sort of thing he would try if he was in the position to get away with it) but the evidence appears to be awfully thin.

Ahmad Chalabi is accused of counterfeiting old Iraqi dinars. But Alusi said only about 3,000 counterfeit dinars, worth approximately $2, were found in Chalabi’s office, and they were marked as forgeries with a red stamp from the Iraqi Central Bank. Chalabi, who headed the Finance Committee of the now-defunct Iraqi Governing Council, has said he was engaged in an effort to stem counterfeiting. Alusi said Chalabi held the forged dinars as part of that effort.A Central Bank official said his agency never sought the counterfeiting charges.

“The Central Bank has not lodged a complaint against any individual regarding money counterfeiting and never requested that such charges be brought,” Sinan Shabibi, the bank’s governor, told the French news agency Agence France-Presse.

And just whose boy is Shabibi?

The political reality is that Allawi has to break Chalabi’s stranglehold or he won’t be in control of his own govt, and he knows it. They have been rivals, jockeying for position as the New Puppet Potentate-in-Waiting; Chalabi chose to burrow into the govt infrastructure, Allawi decided to use his heavy CIA and CPA connections to strike directly for the top. Allawi won, but now he has the problem of cleaning out Chalabi’s die-hard button-men. The best way to kill a poisonous snake is to chop off the head. Allawi’s sword is the countertfeiting charge.

Then there’s the little matter that Ahmad has been running around trying to make a ‘coalition’ out of all the Shi’ite tribes that don’t think they’re represented by the new puppet regime and are looking for a champion. It was a last-ditch act of desperation by a Chalabi looking to build some kind of powerbase, but it could have worked well enough to make him a player and a major thorn in Allawi’s side.

No, the idea that the US is behind Chalabi’s arrest is strictly for the domestic market. The occupation is increasingly hated by more and more of the population, and blaming us is a convenient tactic, nothing more. From the US side, Chalabi is still being defended by Bush Admin neocons and their home-away-from-home, the American Enterprise Institute. While Poor Paul (Wolfowitz) hasn’t made any public statements since Michael Moore showed him wetting his hair down with his own spit, as recently as May he was defending Ahmad, ‘saying that intelligence he had provided saved American lives and helped troops.’ Sure. It killed a lot more, but we’re emphasizing the positive in BushAmerica. In any case, Poor Paul has adopted the BA’s new hands-off policy with regard to Ahmad–he ain’t talking.

[A] Wolfowitz spokesman did not return a call seeking comment.

“His future will be decided by the people of Iraq, if he wants to continue to be involved in Iraq ‘s future,” White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said. “This latest investigation, that is a matter for Iraqi authorities to handle.”The State Department, never as close to Chalabi as the White House or Pentagon, also distanced itself. Adam Ereli, a State Department spokesman, said the charges “are certainly new to us. This is a question of the Iraqi justice system at work. And we are going to play the appropriate role, which is to let that process take its course.”

That cautious distancing does not, however, extend to his other neocon backers. Perle the Pearl, for example, has been actively defending Chalabi every chance he gets.

Richard N. Perle, a former top advisor to Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and a leader of the so-called neoconservatives who embraced Chalabi and the war, said in an interview that he believed the warrants were part of an effort against Chalabi undertaken by the Iraqi government with the support of the U.S. government.”I’m sure it’s been encouraged by the U.S.,” Perle said in an interview from Europe.

He said CIA and State Department officials have long opposed Chalabi and have convinced others in the government to move against him. Now officials in the White House oppose Chalabi as well, Perle said.

“It was those reports that led to a decision to destroy him,” Perle said, adding that he believed there was no basis to the reports that Chalabi passed classified information to Iran.

And, of course, the AEI, avid Laurie Mylroie supporter and the place where Gingrich gave his famous speech proposing the stovepiping of raw data to get around the CIA’s pickiness about needing to have actual proof before they’d believe anything Ahmad said, has been in there pitching.

Michael Rubin, a former advisor to the U.S.-led occupation authority in Iraq now at the American Enterprise Institute think tank, said the judge who issued the warrant was unqualified, and that the Bush administration and government of interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi wanted to keep Chalabi from gaining influence.Rubin said the Allawi government had moved against Chalabi to prevent him from gaining a role in the upcoming conference

Maybe, but as usual with the NWB’s, Rubin asserts facts without offering either evidence or compelling analysis. Here’s mine: nobody in the BA is smart enough or knowledgable enough about internal Iraqi politics, particularly in their present chaotic state, to predict how this is going to shake out, much less take control of the shaking. The Admin that started a war with ‘plans’ that could have been written on the back of an envelope is not an Admin so canny in the ways of the maze/minefield of Arabic politics that it would dare to pick a winner, much less plot the strategy to get him there.

It’s much easier and safer to do what they’re doing: foster the illusion of Iraqi sovereignty by sitting back and letting the battle play itself out. Chalabi could still become a power–if the trial doesn’t result in a conviction, Ahmad has the right to stump the country as a persecuted victim of US manipulation who successfully beat the Superpower at its own game. He becomes a hero to a certain segment, and can no longer be ignored. Allawi’s taking a helluva gamble, but if he wants to run Iraq without Ahmad nipping at his heels all the time, he doesn’t have much choice.

Read Robert Scheer’s column, ‘One More Chalabi Black Eye’.