Iraq's Ahmad Chalabi, Leading Voice Behind 2003 War, Dead at 71

By Salaheddin, Sinan | Charleston Gazette Mail, November 4, 2015 | Go to article overview

Iraq's Ahmad Chalabi, Leading Voice Behind 2003 War, Dead at 71


Salaheddin, Sinan, Charleston Gazette Mail


BAGHDAD - Ahmad Chalabi, a prominent Iraqi politician who became a Pentagon favorite when he helped convince the Bush administration to overthrow Saddam Hussein in 2003 by pushing false allegations of weapons of mass destruction and links to al-Qaida, died Tuesday of a heart attack. He was 71. Iraqi state TV said he died in Baghdad but did not provide further details.

Chalabi, a secular Shiite politician who lived in exile for decades, was a leading proponent of the invasion and had close ties to many in the Bush administration, who viewed him as a favorite to lead Iraq.

However, he had a falling out with the Pentagon after the invasion, and was largely sidelined by other Iraqi leaders, many with close ties to neighboring Iran. Chalabi had most recently been serving as the chairman of parliament's finance committee, and was previously a deputy prime minister.

To his supporters in Iraq, Chalabi was a campaigner for democracy who deserves credit for Saddam's removal.

"It is a very bad day for Iraq, Shiite lawmaker Muwaffak al- Rubaie, a former national security adviser, told The Associated Press. "He was one of the most seasoned and pioneering politicians. Chalabi worked for a democratic, liberal Iraq. I am glad he died peacefully.

But Robert Baer, a former CIA officer who met with Chalabi repeatedly in the mid-1990s and in the lead-up to the 2003 war, called him a "con man" who was able to manipulate American politicians.

"He was the most charming man I've had to deal with at the CIA, and the most educated," Baer told the AP. "He understood American politics and he understood the American political narrative better than most Americans."

The scion of a wealthy Baghdad family, Chalabi fled Iraq as a teenager when the monarchy was overthrown. He earned a bachelor's degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1965, and then went on to get a PhD in mathematics at the University of Chicago.

He became a leading figure in Iraq's exiled opposition in the 1990s and cultivated close ties with the future Vice President Dick Cheney and Washington's so-called neo-conservatives, who favored a more muscular U.S. policy in the Middle East.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Chalabi played a key role in convincing the administration that the Iraqi government had weapons of mass destruction and ties to al-Qaida, unfounded claims at the heart of the case for war.

"There are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and Saddam has them, and they are developing them continuously, and I think, if there is a correct way to look for them, they will be found," Chalabi told AP television in 2003.

After the invasion, Chalabi was appointed to the 25-member Iraqi governing council and earned a seat directly behind First Lady Laura Bush during the 2004 State of the Union.

"He more than any other Iraqi helped get rid of Saddam," said Sajad Jiyad, a fellow at the Iraqi Institute for Economic Reform in Baghdad. …

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