Across the Bay

Friday, May 21, 2004

A Couple More on Chalabi

The portrayal of Ahmad Chalabi in the news has truly been disgraceful. To me however, it's been somewhat an indicator that the DoS and the CIA have the lead in Iraq.

I've stated my position on Chalabi on this blog and I've said that while I do not endorse "handing Iraq over to him," he should (he certainly deserves to) have a shot at running for office in a new Iraq as he is a legitimate political figure with a long history of active anti-Baathism. What he does not deserve is this demonization and discrediting by the CIA and the DoS. This is tantamount to assassination, both political and potentially physical. As Jim Hoagland remarked today:

"[T]he police carted off at least one computer, files and, most critically, a score or more weapons from the Iraqi politician's own security guards.
In the chaos rapidly enveloping the occupation of Iraq, the scene can only encourage Ba'athist killers or others who'd be willing to rid the occupation authority of this meddlesome Shiite politician. Torture by proxy is already an issue in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. Murder by proxy now seems within the realm of the possible in U.S.-occupied Iraq.

The raid carved into concrete and then flashed a spotlight on the message that Chalabi will receive no protection from U.S. occupation forces.

Mind you that this dates back to the beginning of the war. (Kanan Makiya has told the story that at the beginning of the invasion, Ahmad Chalabi was dumped by the CIA in an abandoned shack in Iraq with no communication or protection.)

Hoagland has repeated (via Frances Brooke, Chalabi's adviser) the suspicion that the people involved in the raid on Chalabi were CIA.

Slate has also dug up this piece on Chalabi by Christopher Hitchens. (See also the piece from The National Review refered to below.)

What all these pieces confirm is that the DoS and the CIA want Chalabi out of the picture entirely. But the question is why aren't his supporters doing anything about it? According to Hoagland, the CIA apparently convinced Bush to dump Chalabi. If this is true, it would confirm my suspicion that the DoS and the CIA have new life in Iraq. It could be that Bush is desperate for Brahimi to come up with a government by June 30th, that anything standing in his way is to be removed. This move towards the "Arabist solution" is Powell's (and the CIA's) hallmark, which is quite predictable as it is the choice of the status quo. It could be seen in Powell's (and Bush's) shift towards the "Pan-Arab audience" (as in the apologies for Abu Ghraib and the summit in Jordan) criticized by Ajami, Young, Hoagland, and lastly by Amir Taheri in today's NY Post:

"Another complaint: American leaders seldom bother to appear on the Iraqi station. President Bush went on the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya to speak of his horror about Abu Ghraib, which happens to be in Iraq. And it was in an interview with Al Ahram, the Egyptian government's newspaper, that the president offered his apologies over the prisoner-abuse scandal.

Iraq has 150 new newspapers, almost all of them better than Al Ahram, if only because they aren't propaganda sheets for an unelected government. Yet they can't even get an interview with Bremer's driver, let alone President Bush.

Worse still, Bush presented his first Abu Ghraib apologies to Jordan's King Abdullah. The Iraqis regard themselves as potential leaders of the Middle East and resent being treated as if they were under the tutelage of the King of Jordan or anyone else.
To make matters worse, the Coalition now wants to bring in Lakhdar Brahimi, an Algerian diplomat, to rule Iraq in the transition period.

"Iraq was a state and a founder of the United Nations when Algeria was a French province," says Ali. "Is there no Iraqi capable of doing the job that they have reserved for Brahimi?"

Contrary to the generally held view that Iraq is an "artificial country" with no sense of identity, the overwhelming majority of Iraqis have strong patriotic sentiments that cut across ethnic and religious differences. They set the concept of "Uruqua" (Iraqi-ness) against that of "Uruba" (Arabness) to claim a special leadership place for their country.

All this to me indicates a thoroughly Arabist approach, with the fingerprints of the DoS and the CIA all over it. That would be a real shame, as well as a self-defeating, back-to-square-one approach. (See this paper for the track record, although it should be read with the proverbial grain of salt.)

But I find myself repeating my points over and over, and the more the Arabists are involved, the more nervous I get. How can you be optimistic with Powell and the CIA leading the way? And what's the alternative? Kerry?! The man whose entire agenda is a handover of things to the UN (and ostensibly the Arabs)!? And they're blaming the people who wanted to stress Iraq's singularity for the mess, and cheering for the upholders of the Pan-Arab solution. Well, you've seen nothing yet! Wait and see if the Arabists actually win! Leaving Iraq for the Iraqis alone to handle would then be the more cautious option!! Leaving it with the UN and Arabs (let alone the CIA) would be worse!

As Hoagland said, that would not be the democracy the Iraqis were promised. But hey, it will please the rest of the world!