Ahmad Chalabi's big role detailed in war novel

March 18, 2008 11:29:20 AM PDT
"The Man Who Pushed America to War" by Aram Roston: A brilliant young math prof who switched into banking and Middle East politics.

An international banker who handled hundreds of millions - and was convicted of fraud in the handling.

A world class amateur diplomat - active in both Israel and in anti-Israel Iran, as well as in the United States.

A foreign lobbyist who got Congress to call for regime change in his home country - he did his lobbying with U.S. government money.

A politician who rose to become his country's deputy prime minister (after American forces fought a campaign that made elections possible).

Yes, they're all the same man as author Aram Roston relates in "The Man Who Pushed America to War."

He's Ahmad Abdul Hadi Chalabi, now 63, charismatic son of an influential Iraqi banking family. He lost an election in 2005. Two years later he was back in government as head of a new committee to restore electric power, health services and other amenities still not working fully in Baghdad.

"The Iraq war has many critics and some fierce defenders," Roston writes, "but many insiders on both sides of the debate agree on this: without Chalabi there would have been no war. ...

"Although he was not an American, and in fact distrusted the United States, he moved from one federal agency to another with the easy grace of a hummingbird flitting from flower to flower. First he was funded by the Central Intelligence Agency, then by the State Department, and finally by the Defense Department."

Roston estimates that Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress (INC) received $59 million from the U.S. government during 11 years.

Among Chalabi's supporters Roston lists not only Republican senators John McCain, Sam Brownback and Trent Lott, but also Democrats Joseph Lieberman and former senator Robert Kerrey.

Chalabi and his associates throw doubt on some of the more publicized aspects of his career. He maintains, Roston says, that his conviction for bank fraud in Jordan was the result of a political plot between the government there and Chalabi's archenemy in Iraq, Saddam Hussein.

In the run-up to the Iraq war, Chalabi's INC was associated with news stories on alleged defectors from Saddam's regime. In one, a woman calling herself Saddam's longtime mistress was said to have told that he gave money to Osama bin Laden. Another story described Iraqi mobile laboratories for weapons of mass destruction, labs that could not be found when U.S. forces occupied Iraq.

"The point is this," the book says, "Chalabi's INC, even when it did not directly plant false information about Saddam's links to terrorists and his WMDs, knew full well that, in many cases, it was false."

INC people told Roston later that they had introduced defectors from Iraq to American investigators, but did not vouch for their veracity.

Though written with verve and detail - the book is subtitled "The Extraordinary Life, Adventures and Obsessions of Ahmad Chalabi" - it's replete with Arabic names, places and references that may confuse readers who have not followed Middle Eastern affairs in detail over the years.

But Roston concludes simply:

"There are few foreigners who have had as much impact as Ahmad Chalabi has had on U.S. government policy and perhaps even on U.S. history. And none except Chalabi have done it fully funded by the U.S. taxpayer."

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