Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi dies
AMMAN - Powerful Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi, whose faulty information on Iraq’s alleged programme to produce weapons of mass destruction drew the United States and its allies into a quagmire in Iraq, has died of a heart attack in his Baghdad home. He was 71.
Chalabi suffered a heart attack in early November 3rd in his residence in Baghdad’s upscale Kadhimiya neighbourhood, according to Jabbar Abdul-Khaleq, a long-time friend of the deceased and a lawmaker who served with Chalabi in parliament’s Finance Committee.
“It was a severe cardiac arrest and he died instantly,” Abdul-Khaleq told The Arab Weekly in a telephone interview.
Chalabi’s career extended over decades, although part was spent in exile during the reign of his arch-enemy, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
A longtime US ally, Chalabi once enjoyed access to the White House, particularly during Republican administrations. He provided US security authorities, congressional leaders, administration officials and even journalists with details of an Iraqi weapons programme.
However, following the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq that toppled Saddam, a search of Iraqi military facilities unveiled that witness accounts, through Chalabi and others, were fabrications. At the time, an impenitent Chalabi said removing Saddam from power justified the means.
A secular Shia Muslim, Chalabi stood for prime minister in August 2014 but lost his bid because of his contentious policies, particularly isolating leaders of the rival Sunni sect and others associated with Saddam’s Arab Ba’ath Socialist Party, a move that fuelled sectarian concerns.
“His political ambitions always stood in the way of making some real good changes for the country,” said Karrar Ali Mohsin, an oil engineer who worked under Chalabi when the politician headed the Iraqi Oil Ministry a few years ago.
“He had a vision and good ideas but this was often overshadowed by controversial policies he adopted, which made him an enemy to many,” Mohsin said. He was referring to Chalabi banishing many Sunni oil ministry employees and others suspected of ties to the Ba’ath Party.
Until his death, Chalabi served as a member of parliament and the head of legislature’s Finance Committee. Earlier, he was president of a US-appointed Governing Council, which administered Iraq for nearly a year after the invasion. Later, he served briefly as minister of oil.
Chalabi was born to a wealthy Shia family who fled Iraq following the 1950 coup against the Hashemite monarchy. He studied in the United States and earned a doctorate in mathematics from the University of Chicago.
In the 1980s, Chalabi turned to politics and finance. He launched Petra Bank in Jordan, which soon became the country’s second largest financial institution before it suddenly crashed and sent the country’s fragile economy on a limp.
Jordan accused Chalabi of embezzlement and a military court convicted and sentenced him to 20 years in jail. The trial, verdict and sentencing were in absentia as Chalabi had fled to Britain hours before Jordanian authorities announced that the bank had crashed.
The Central Bank of Jordan spent $350 million to bail out Petra Bank. The financial institution was liquidated and the bank closed less than two years later.
In 1992, Chalabi formed the Iraqi National Congress (INC), a group that brought together Shia religious parties, Kurdish political leaders and Saddam’s secular foes in a bid to overthrow him. INC received tens of millions of dollars from US intelligence agencies and the US State Department to topple Saddam.
Afterward, Chalabi developed warm ties with US President George W. Bush and top administration officials, who went to war with Iraq to remove Saddam.
Back in politics at home after Saddam was deposed, Chalabi was part of a committee that disbanded the Ba’ath Party. He went a step further, rallying for the banning of Ba’ath members — mostly Sunnis and tribal leaders — from holding public posts. But his honeymoon with the Americans did not last long. In 2004, US soldiers and Iraqi police raided Chalabi’s residence and offices in Baghdad on suspicion that he had been involved in a currency trading scheme. No charges were brought, however.
Chalabi maintained cordial ties with Iran during Saddam’s era and afterward. Being a Shia Muslim, Chalabi managed to enter Tehran’s political hierarchy and befriend influential politicians and clerics who backed him no matter who ruled in Baghdad and despite his close US ties.