Calling allegations that he spied for Iran a "smear," Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi lashed out at the Bush administration yesterday, three days after Iraqi police backed by U.S. forces raided his Baghdad home.
Chalabi, once the choice of leading Defense Department civilians to run Iraq, said his calls for Iraqi sovereignty and an end to the U.S. occupation have made him unpopular with the Bush administration, which he said is running a failed occupation.
Chalabi said he will cooperate with any U.S. investigation, but not with an Iraqi one. He volunteered to testify before Congress, where he still counts a number of supporters. As investigators continue their search for several of Chalabi's associates in the Iraqi National Congress, he blamed CIA Director George J. Tenet.
"This charge is put out by George Tenet," Chalabi told ABC's "This Week." "Let Mr. Tenet come to Congress. And I am prepared to come there and lay out all the facts and all the documents that we have, and let Congress decide whether this is true. Or whether they are being misled by George Tenet."
A U.S. intelligence official described Chalabi's allegations as "absurd."
"We would welcome hearing from him before Congress under oath," said the official, who requested anonymity. A suitable line of questioning, the official said, would be the allegation "that Tenet and the CIA had trumped up these charges against him."
Chalabi has long been a controversial figure in the Bush administration and Congress, bitterly opposed by influential players in the CIA and the State Department who mistrust him. The debate over his future was one of the administration's messiest political battles before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.
His strongest backers before the war could be found in the office of Vice President Cheney and the Defense Department, where leading postwar planners wanted to establish an early provisional government with Chalabi in the lead.
After the U.S. military toppled Saddam Hussein, Chalabi became a member of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council and served a month-long term in the rotating presidency. Four months ago, he sat behind Laura Bush in the gallery of the House of Representatives for President Bush's State of the Union address.
Chalabi is not wanted for a crime, although the government in Jordan, where he was convicted in absentia of embezzling bank funds, reiterated yesterday that a jail cell awaits him.
In the Iraq case, INC members are suspected of providing information to neighboring Iran about the occupation of Iraq, including sensitive intelligence about U.S. troop positions. A warrant has been issued for the arrest of Aras Habib, Chalabi's top intelligence adviser.
U.S. authorities suspect Habib is a paid agent of the Iranian intelligence service. Chalabi, a regular visitor to Tehran before the war, made no secret of his ties to Iranian intelligence, but he denied delivering secrets.
Chalabi told George Stephanopoulos of ABC News that the United States gave him no classified information. An Iranian government spokesman told reporters yesterday that Chalabi provided no clandestine intelligence.
Chalabi and the INC routed Iraqi defectors to U.S. intelligence agencies, where their reports about Hussein's weapons programs often turned out to be false or unconfirmable. He said yesterday that the INC presented three defectors to U.S. agencies but never vouched for their credibility.
"We gave no information about weapons of mass destruction," Chalabi said. "It was up to them to analyze this. And the responsibility for reporting to the president after analyzing the information is not mine, neither is it the INC's."
Chalabi has spoken increasingly firmly on the need for Iraq to be run by Iraqis, not by the U.S.-led occupation. Yesterday he predicted that an interim government being negotiated by U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and U.S. diplomats L. Paul Bremer and Robert D. Blackwill will fail.
A better solution, Chalabi said, would be for Bush to invite the Iraqi leadership to the presidential retreat at Camp David and "iron out the formation of a new government there, with them directly."
Shown in opinion polls to be unpopular in Iraq, and considered undesirable by Brahimi, Chalabi may believe that his chances of winning a significant role in the next Iraqi government would be strongest if Bush took command. But for reasons of domestic politics and the legitimacy of the future government, the White House has made clear that it does not want the president to play such a role.