Curiouser and curiouser

by Chris Bertram on August 11, 2004

“A very odd column by Christopher Hitchens”: about Ahmed Chalabi, the CIA, and so forth. It finishes by hinting at a more critical position toward the Allawi government than some of Hitchens’s admirers have hitherto managed:

bq. As I write, the Allawi government in Baghdad is trying, with American support, a version of an “iron fist” policy in the Shiite cities of the south. (“Like all weak governments,” as Disraeli once said in another connection, “it resorts to strong measures.”) Chalabi, who has spent much of this year in Najaf, thinks that this is extremely unwise. We shall be testing all these propositions, and more, as the months go by.



keef 08.12.04 at 12:12 am

In at least a couple recent columns, Hitchens has appeared to be as credulous about Chalabi as Judith Miller was pre-war.

Hitchen’s crediblity has been near zero for me for some time now. It’s good that he is further destroying it by supporting a fraud.



dsquared 08.12.04 at 12:24 am

It is of course, entirely possible to believe (I think this is my actual view) that Chalabi is a crook and that he is being set up …

I’d also just like to remind all CT readers (since, apparently, you don’t read this anywhere else), that although Hitchens is right that Chalabi was found guilty by a Jordanian tribunal that did not live up to the very best standards of regulation, this tribunal was convened after the insolvency of Petra Bank, and that the insolvency of Petra Bank was precipitated by the fact that another Chalabi-family-controlled bank had lost its banking licence in Switzerland; it is not at all giving the whole picture to imply that it was only the Jordanians who were concerned about the probity of the Chalabi empire.


praktike 08.12.04 at 12:28 am

wasn’t there also the thing about Chalabi’s potemkin bank in the US that was just somebody’s house?


nick 08.12.04 at 12:54 am

One of the saddest falls from grace re: Chalabi was the Obs’s Nick Cohen, who drank the Kool-Aid (as they say on the left side of the pond) in a rather big way with regard to Iraq. He’s steered rather clear of the topic for many months.

re: Hitch. Someone should see if Chalabi has a stake in the Johnny Walker distribution network around DC. But Hitch may be having his ‘Homage in Catalonia’ moment, which, if it were the case, would be rather sad for someone who, one presumes, has read the book.


Mario 08.12.04 at 1:57 am

Just goes to show no matter how smart you think your are, there’s always someone smarter. This guy’s had Hitchens number for a long time and seems to be able to get him to make a fool of himself at will. Of course, Hitchens is is not the only one. In their willingness to ignore every piece of evidence that points toward the guy being a crook, the people defending Chalabi are reminiscent of cult members defending their leaders. Reason isn’t going to convince them the guy’s a fraud, deprogramming might be in order.


Robin Green 08.12.04 at 2:00 am

Cohen may have gone silent on Iraq (are you sure about that? I distinctly remember him writing something in the New Statesman recently, which not only reaffirmed his pro-war position, but also backed the government re the Butler report!)

But anyway, over at Harry’s Place, Johann Hari continues to brazenly suggest that the likes of Chomsky were “anti-democratic” for daring to come out against the invasion (rather reminiscent of the right-wing claim that to be anti-war was automatically to be pro-Saddam). He bases this view on post-invasion opinion polls which, he claims, show Iraqis in favour of the invasion.

Hari, of course, glosses quickly over the overwhelming lack of support for the US occupation, because that casts doubt on his point.


Rajeev Advani 08.12.04 at 2:03 am

Does anybody have a link to a well-reasoned “case against Chalabi?” I’ve read disjointed attacks on him (along with lazy swipes all over the net) but I’d be interested in reading something comprehensive.


Robin Green 08.12.04 at 2:14 am

Oh sorry, the Chalabi connection there. I forgot to mention it!

So did Hari (which is the point I was going to mention) – probably because he realised that to cite Chalabi’s propaganda (bought and paid for by aid from the US congress) about how Iraqis on the ground were begging for Iraq to be bombed, would not necessarily sound all that convincing from today’s vantage point.


Mario 08.12.04 at 2:37 am

Does anybody have a link to a well-reasoned “case against Chalabi?”

If I had his reputation, I couldn’t get a loan at a pawnshop, and rednecks would be lining up to kick my ass.

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.

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Ahmad Chalabi and his nephew vigorously denied counterfeiting and murder charges Monday, saying Iraqi warrants for their arrest were part of a political conspiracy trumped up by Saddam Hussein loyalists.

Mr Chalabi’s reputation is one of his main problems. In the early 90s, he was convicted, in absentia, by a Jordanian military court for embezzling more than £40bn. He disputes the legitimacy of the charges, but members of the Jordanian financial community talked to by the Village Voice said that “at best … he was grossly negligent, at a tremendous cost not only to the Jordanian economy, but to thousands of shareholders … and at worst, in the words of [the former head of Jordan’s Central Bank] Mohammed Said Nabulsi, he ‘was a crook who absolutely cooked the books to hide his crimes'”.


nick 08.12.04 at 2:49 am

robin: I must admit that don’t follow the New Statesman now that I’m across the pond — heck, I never read it anyway — but his Obs columns have been very much an Iraq-free zone for quite a while. (A quick search of the archives bears this out.) But it’s weird to read his comments back in 2002:

Many in the INC believe that what truly infuriates the CIA is that Chalabi is a cultured businessman, who speaks English better than most Western politicians. He argues with style and force against the INC’s detractors on the US networks and in Congress and the Washington think-tanks.

George Tenet, who, incredibly, remains the CIA director after his failure to protect his country on 11 September, is the leader of the faction in Washington which loathes the INC…

In Washington, the State Department, which has stopped funding the INC after disputed accusations of fraud, and the CIA take no notice of the threat and support the ‘nicer Sunni tyrant’ option. Paradoxically, the greatest supporters of the civilian movement are the military in the Pentagon.

The struggle between the departments is underway, but the balance of forces is against the INC. A democratic Iraq would give the subject peoples of the Gulf monarchies ideas above their station.

The CIA faction does appear to have won, with Allawi’s installation. But the notion of Chalabi as a beacon of light, hope and freedom (and accurate information) appears to have been somewhat naive. It’s on record that the INC engaged in mass appropriation of property — or at least, a very particular brand of squatting — on its return to Iraq.


Matthew 08.12.04 at 8:06 am

When did Hitchens start this habit of brushing aside unwelcome allegations by claiming he is not qualified to judge them? You know the sort of thing (‘People claim that X shot and killed Y, but medical training is not my line of expertise and so I can’t comment. Neither reader can you’…).

He never used to say it. I’ve just re-read ‘No-one left to lie to’ and in that he seems prepared to comment on anything.


Rajeev Advani 08.12.04 at 6:13 pm

Thanks Mario I will check those out.

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