Tinker, Banker, Neocon, Spy: Ahmed Chalabi's Long and Winding Road from (and to?) Baghdad

Article excerpt

IF T.E. LAWRENCE ("OF ARABIA") HAD BEEN A 21ST-century neoconservative operative instead of a British imperial spy, he'd be Ahmed Chalabi's best friend. Chalabi, the London-based leader of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), is front man for the latest incarnation of a long-time neoconservative strategy to redraw the map of the oil-rich Middle East, put American troops--and American oil companies--in full control of the Persian Gulf's reserves and use the Gulf as a fulcrum for enhancing America's global strategic hegemony. Just as Lawrence's escapades in World War I-era Arabia helped Britain remake the disintegrating Ottoman Empire, the U.S. sponsors of Chalabi's INC hope to do their own nation building.

"The removal of [Saddam Hussein] presents the United States in particular with a historic opportunity that I believe is going to prove to be as large as anything that has happened in the Middle East since the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the entry of British troops into Iraq in 1917," says Kanan Makiya, an INC strategist and author of Republic of Fear.

Chalabi would hand over Iraq's oil to U.S. multinationals, and his allies in conservative think tanks are already drawing up the blueprints. "What they have in mind is denationalization, and then parceling Iraqi oil out to American oil companies," says James E. Akins, former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Even more broadly, once an occupying U.S. army seizes Baghdad, Chalabi's INC and its American backers are spinning scenarios about dismantling Saudi Arabia, seizing its oil and collapsing the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). It's a breathtaking agenda, one that goes far beyond "regime change" and on to the start of a New New World Order.

What's also startling about these plans is that Chalabi is scorned by most of America's national-security establishment, including much of the Department of State, the CIA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He is shunned by all Western powers save the United Kingdom, ostracized in the Arab world and disdained even by many of his erstwhile comrades in the Iraqi opposition. Among his few friends, however, are the men running the Bush administration's willy-nilly war on Iraq. And with their backing, it's not inconceivable that this hapless, exiled Iraqi aristocrat and London-Washington playboy might end up atop the smoking heap of what's left of Iraq next year.

THE CHALABI LOBBY

Almost to a man, Washington's hawks lavishly praise Chalabi. "He's a rare find," says Max Singer, a trustee and co-founder of the Hudson Institute. "He's deep in the Arab world and at the same time he is fundamentally a man of the West."

In Washington, Team Chalabi is led by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, the neoconservative strategist who heads the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board. Chalabi's partisans run the gamut from far right to extremely far right, with key supporters in most of the Pentagon's Middle-East policy offices--such as Peter Rodman, Douglas Feith, David Wurmser and Michael Rubin. Also included are key staffers in Vice President Dick Cheney's office, not to mention Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and former CIA Director Jim Woolsey.

The Washington partisans who want to install Chalabi in Arab Iraq are also those associated with the staunchest backers of Israel, particularly those aligned with the hard-right faction of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Chalabi's cheerleaders include the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA). "Chalabi is the one that we know the best," says Shoshana Bryen, director of special projects for JINSA, where Chalabi has been a frequent guest at board meetings, symposia and other events since 1997. "He could be Iraq's national leader," says Patrick Clawson, deputy director of WINEP, whose board of advisers includes pro-Israeli luminaries such as Perle, Wolfowitz and Martin Peretz of The New Republic. …