Times are tough for Washington supporters of Ahmed Chalabi, the suave exile whom neocons once touted to run Iraq. The latest fallout since Chalabi turned radioactive amid allegations that his group disclosed secrets to Iran: Two of Chalabi's U.S. aides told us they are facing arrest warrants in Iraq that allege obstruction of justice, and a third is being sought for questioning there as a material witness.
Francis Brooke, a veteran Washington political strategist for Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, said he and Margaret Bartel of Alexandria, who handled the party's books, learned of the obstruction charges in recent days after returning from Iraq. Entifahd Qanbar, an Iraqi American spokesman for the INC, said Saturday he'd received a court summons as a witness but, "it doesn't mention what type of charge." He added, "Until I find out that I'll receive due process I'm not going to turn myself in."
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All three say they've done nothing wrong, but Chalabi loyalists have seen their star fall precipitously since Iraqi police, with the help of American troops and contractors, raided his headquarters last month. The United States has poured $40 million into the INC over the years, and Brooke said its $342,000-a-month subsidy will expire this month.
Brooke, 42, was part of the vanguard that pushed the Iraq Liberation Act through Congress in the Clinton administration. He wants to return to Iraq to answer the allegations, which stem from his conduct during the raid. "I did do a lot of yelling until I found the commanding officer, but that's all," he said. "I am a polite person to policemen."
Bartel, 52, told us: "I didn't do anything except ask where the warrant was. I didn't prevent them from doing anything. I did want to see what the legal basis was for the search and seizure. They were taking property that was bought by the U.S. government" for Chalabi.
"It's a political vendetta," Brooke told us, attributing the allegations to American occupation officials who have turned against Chalabi, who has not been charged with any offenses.
"Why in the hell am I under arrest instead of being given the chance to do the work that I have done better than any human being over the past decade? Good golly, what a waste of time," said the onetime beer industry rep, pouring himself the second Red Hook of the morning in the Georgetown townhouse that has served as an INC base since 1996.
Brooke is president and Bartel is director of Boxwood Inc., a Virginia corporation that Brooke said received Pentagon funds for Chalabi's party. Another director is Aras Karim Habib, who served as the Iraqi National Congress's intelligence chief and is now a fugitive from an Iraqi arrest warrant. (Several press reports say the CIA has long considered him a paid agent for Iranian intelligence; he has denied it.)
Qanbar, 45, a political prisoner under Saddam Hussein, said he'll continue to work in Washington and worries about returning to his homeland. "You kidding me? I'd have nightmares just thinking about it. . . . Any allegation can put you down into a hole."
U.S. spokesmen in Baghdad did not respond to several calls and e-mails Saturday.
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