In Chalabi's Fall, Iran Sees a New U.S. Policy
By Jefferson Morley
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Monday, May 24, 2004; 4:53 PM
Four months ago, Ahmad Chalabi sat with first lady Laura Bush during President Bush's State of the Union address. At the time, the Iraqi banker-politician enjoyed the support of some of the Pentagon's highest ranking civilian officials.
Today, Chalabi's defenders are more likely to be found in Iran, the country that Bush famously described as part of the "axis of evil."
The government and the online press in Iran are coming to the defense of Chalabi, a Shiite Muslim, whose Baghdad headquarters were raided by U.S. troops last week. Several of Chalabi's associates have been charged with providing U.S. intelligence information to Iran.
The Islamic Republic News Agency called the espionage allegations "baseless." The charge, said the Mehr News Agency in Tehran, is a "disinformation ploy which will fall flat."
The Islamic online media see the repudiation of Chalabi as the Bush administration's latest maneuver to preserve its power in Iraq -- at the expense of the Shiite majority.
"The events in Iraq in recent weeks indicate that the U.S. is determined to prolong its occupation of the country," said the Mehr News Agency report.
The Iranian government is especially concerned about U.S. efforts to suppress the uprising of radical cleric Moqtada Sadr, who has personal and political connections to Iranian ruling circles.
"Iran has sent a formal warning to the United States about Washington's policy in neighboring Iraq," reported Aljazeerah.net, the Web site of the Arab cable news network.
The Iranian government "voiced alarm" about fighting around the Shiite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala between U.S. occupation forces and Sadr's militia.
"We want several things for Iraq, the most important of which are the departure of the occupation forces as quickly as possible and the restitution of authority to the Iraqi people themselves," said foreign ministry spokesperson Hamid Reza Asefi.
The story received prominent coverage from South Africa to Bangladesh to Borneo.
For Alex Massie, Washington correspondent for the Scotsman in Edinburgh, "Chalabi's fate is symbolic of that of the American neocons[ervatives]" who sponsored his bid for power. "They wanted to remake the world in America's image, but Iraq has dealt their project a deep and possibly fatal blow. "
The Iranian governments and Chalabi are united by concern about Washington's renewed alliance with Iraqi's Sunni minority, says Jim Lobe, a correspondent for the Daily Star in Lebanon, which has a large Shiite community as well. Sunnis dominated the ranks of Saddam Hussein's Baathist party. Some of the Sunni officers now favored by Washington participated in the violent suppression of a Shiite rebellion in 1991.
Lobe observes that Chalabi was "infuriated" by the U.S. decision last month to bring back thousands of former Baathists to positions in the security forces.
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