Iraq Turns Hot for Three of Chalabi's U.S. Aides

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."

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.

An occasional feature revealing the secret lives of much-quoted experts.

BEN STEIN

Occupation: Commentator, lawyer, economist and author of a new book, "How to Ruin Your Financial Life."

Born: Nov. 25, 1944, at D.C.'s Garfield Hospital. Grew up on Harvey Road in Silver Spring.

Marital status: "Married to one woman my whole life, Alex. We were married, divorced, and remarried in 1977." Their son, Tommy,

is 16.

Childhood pets: Dogs named Missy and Peggy, "but neither of those compares in terms of the intensity of my feelings for Brigid, a German short-haired pointer I have now."

Favorite quote: "My father, Herb, said, 'If a thing cannot go on forever, it will stop.' "

Personal Reagan memory: "When I wrote columns praising him for King Features Syndicate, he would call up and thank me. It was incredibly nice of him. I also loved that he denied that he dyed his hair even though it was obvious he did. He had a wonderful gift of blarney."

Nobody knows I: Joined Alcoholics Anonymous. "Not for alcohol, but for help in overeating. I've always been a huge fan of food. I was out in Malibu and there was one meeting a week of Overeaters Anonymous, but I wanted to go to a meeting every day, and the only one nearby was AA. I loved it and a lot of it was tremendously useful to me. But I still eat too much."

Most humbling moment: "I worked for Richard Nixon, and the day he resigned, I identified so thoroughly with him that I laid low for a year. I was working productively but I was very sad. I worked briefly at the White House for Gerald Ford and was fired in a terse phone call from Mr. Rumsfeld, which left me feeling that he's not my most favorite person, and then I went to the Wall Street Journal -- which was a very successful column-writing experience for me."

Celebrity I most resemble (besides Ben Stein): "That guy in 'American Pie,' Eugene Levy, who played the father. My son is always saying I should get those parts."

Most notable characteristic: "My large nose. And I'm extremely generous to my friends who are in need -- to the point where it's dangerous to my own financial well-being."

When I'm good I'm very good; when I'm bad: "I'm a tremendous flirt. I used to be a tremendous flirt with girls and now I'm a tremendous flirt with dogs. If I see one walking down the street, I'll pull over and flirt with the dog."

Adult entertainment name (childhood pet plus street name): Missy Harvey.

SQUIBS

* A congressman's effort to ride Madonna's coattails (or maybe her leather underwear) into her concert Monday at MCI Center has backfired, resulting in a flurry of legal demands from the star.

A fundraising invite, asking fans to "Come Take a 'Holiday' with Rep. Lee Terry and Madonna" at the venue, included a picture of the Material Mom and some of her lyrics. Her attorney, Charles B. Ortner, fired off a letter Thursday asking the Nebraska Republican to cease and desist.

Madonna "is deeply offended by these obviously willful violations of her rights and the attempt to deceive the public into believing that she has endorsed [Terry's] reelection," the letter states.

Terry intended to sell concert tickets to contributors for $1,500 apiece or $2,500 per couple, according to the Omaha World-Herald. He has canceled plans to attend the concert but will still host a dinner for contributors, his campaign said.

The paper quoted Terry as saying, "I like live music, and I admit it, I like Madonna." (Don't we all?)

* And in another rock-related policy development, Bruce Springsteen is using his Web site to circulate Al Gore's strident criticisms of George Bush.

The Boss tells fans: "A few weeks ago at N.Y.U., Al Gore gave one of the most important speeches I've heard in a long time. . . . It's my pleasure to reprint it here for my fans." Through a rep, Springsteen declined our requests for further comment.

Annals of Puffery

An occasional verbatim press release

* "As we have found in recent days, former President Ronald Reagan was not only well respected for his diplomacy and foreign policy. He was respected as a gentleman: a suave, well-spoken gentleman, who knew exactly what to say at any given moment. . . . Speaking in public and social situations has always topped the list of America's fears. . . . Don Gabor can help.

"Gabor, author of 'How to Start a Conversation and Make Friends' and 'How to Talk to People You Love,' is the premier expert to help Americans with their most commonly made mistakes in conversation . . ."

With Anne Schroeder