Chalabi Aides Suspected of Spying for Iran
Raid at Leader's Home Targeted His Associates
By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, May 22, 2004; Page A20
BAGHDAD, May 21 -- Members of the political organization headed by Ahmed Chalabi are suspected of providing information to Iran on U.S. troop positions in Iraq and of kidnapping a prominent physician from his home, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials familiar with three investigations into a group the Bush administration once favored to run postwar Iraq.
On Thursday, Iraqi police, backed by U.S. soldiers, raided Chalabi's home and the offices of the Iraqi National Congress, a coalition of parties that opposed the government of Saddam Hussein. Until recently, the group received $335,000 a month from the Pentagon for help in gathering prewar intelligence about Hussein's government and in finding his top lieutenants after the invasion.
Chalabi, a longtime exile leader who was once the Pentagon's preferred choice to be Iraq's postwar leader, characterized the raids as retaliation for his criticism of U.S. policy in Iraq.
Iraq's U.S.-appointed Governing Council, of which Chalabi is a member, met Friday in an emergency session to discuss how to respond to the raid, which many of its members linked to U.S. occupation officials.
In interviews Friday, INC members, senior officers of the Iraqi police force and U.S. officials outlined three distinct investigations into the INC, which in addition to Defense Department funding received $33 million from the State Department over the past four years.
The inquiries are focusing on allegations of corruption, kidnapping and robbery, and on a U.S. suspicion that one of Chalabi's closest advisers is a paid agent of the Iranian intelligence service, according to U.S., INC and Iraqi police officials. The adviser, Aras Habib, has a long working relationship with the Defense Intelligence Agency and is now a fugitive.
Chalabi is not wanted for arrest.
One of Chalabi's advisers said Friday that INC officials received advance notice of U.S. plans to search the INC intelligence building and removed their computers weeks ago. The adviser, Francis Brooke, said "nothing of any intelligence value" was recovered in the raids.
With the United States preparing to transfer limited power to an interim Iraqi government in a little more than a month, the move against the INC has been portrayed by Chalabi as a U.S. effort to isolate him before the new government is named.
The Bush administration once regarded Chalabi, a moderate Shiite Muslim businessman who spent decades in exile, as a leading candidate to be Iraq's leader after Hussein was toppled. But over a difficult year of U.S. occupation, Chalabi has accused U.S. officials of failing to move quickly enough to transfer power and has criticized U.N. involvement in the process.
At a hearing on Capitol Hill, some Democratic members of the House Armed Services Committee expressed puzzlement over the latest turn of events regarding Chalabi.
"We support our troops, and we support you gentlemen -- it's your civilian bosses in the Pentagon I'm increasingly worried about," Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) said to Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and two other senior officers testifying before the panel. "This seems to be a substantial development in the war, when one of the most highly paid and trusted advisers may have deliberately misled our nation for months and years and some of our officials may have swallowed it hook, line and sinker."
Myers said he knew very little about Chalabi, despite the Iraqi's close relationship with the Pentagon.
"If this man was on the U.S. payroll until last week, what has changed in the last few days to make him the subject of a raid of this type?" Cooper asked.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company