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2004-08-09

Fall From Grace: Iraq Issues Arrest Warrants for Fmr. U.S. Ally Ahmad Chalabi and Nephew Salem Chalabi

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Iraq issues separate arrest warrants for former Governing Council member and former Pentagon favorite Ahmed Chalabi and his nephew, Salem Chalabi head of the tribunal trying Saddam Hussein. We speak with veteran Middle East journalist Dilip Hiro. [includes rush transcript]

An Iraqi judge has issued arrest warrants for former Governing Council member Ahmed Chalabi and his nephew, Salem Chalabi.

Ahmad Chalabi, who had close ties to Vice President Dick Cheney and the Pentagon, is wanted on counterfeiting charges. The Associated Press quoted the judge as saying that Chalabi appeared to have been mixing counterfeit money with other old money and changing it into new dinars in the street. Police found the counterfeit money during a May raid on his house in Baghdad, the judge said.

Ahmed Chalabi was once the Pentagon’s favored candidate to lead Iraq, but he fell from grace amid allegations of links to Iranian hardliners and concerns that he provided faulty intelligence in the run-up to the war. Chalabi spoke to CNN from Tehran yesterday and said he would return to Iraq to respond to the fraud charges.

Separately, Ahmad’s nephew, Salem who is the head of the tribunal trying Saddam Hussein, was named as a suspect in the murder of director general of the finance ministry Haithem Fadhil.

Fadhil who was shot and killed in May, had been preparing a report on reclaiming government-owned real estate. According to a source quoted in the Los Angeles Times, the document concluded that members of the Chalabi family and their political party, the Iraqi National Congress, had illegally seized hundreds of pieces of property after the U.S.-led invasion last year.

Both men, who are out of the country, denied the charges and said they were politically motivated.

  • Dilip Hiro, veteran journalist on the Middle East. His trilogy of books on Iraq and Iran are considered some of the most definitive histories of the wars in the Persian Gulf. His latest book is called Secrets and Lies: Operation 'Iraqi Freedom' and After.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Dilip Hiro, veteran journalist in the Middle East. His trilogy of books on Iraq and Iran are considered the most definitive histories of the wars in the Persian Gulf. His latest book is Secrets and Lies: Operation Iraqi Freedom and After. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Dilip.

DILIP HIRO: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. So let’s talk about these arrest warrants of Ahmed Chalabi and his nephew, Salem, which I believe, Salem is in London where you are.

DILIP HIRO: Yes, that’s true. I think that this particular warrant against Ahmed Chalabi talks about counterfeit money. Now, this has to do with changeover of the old Iraqi bank notes which had Saddam Hussein’s picture on it with the new notes, and they were exchanged — the old ones were exchanged for the new ones, and at that time Mr. Ahmed Chalabi was in charge of the finance at the Iraqi Governing Council, and there were two options: either to burn the old bank notes or to bury them. And he suggested or in fact he decreed that they should be burned. And a contract went to one of his buddies. Now, in that transaction, about $12 million were missing. What you would do is, you know, as [inaudible] or employer of a company, you would take the old notes to the bank and the bank would give you new notes. In those transactions, $12 million are missing, and there were about six or seven bank tellers who were supposed to be involved. And it was in the course of that particular scam that a warrant were issued to search the home and the office of Ahmed Chalabi last May. And now we are told that in the course of that particular search counterfeit money was found. Now, the one report that I have read is that this pertains to a few counterfeit dollar bills which were found, and which apparently they claim were given to Ahmed Chalabi as some kind of a joke. So, we don’t know exactly what this particular charge against him really means, but we have to look at the bigger picture, the political picture, which is that the Bush administration knows, everybody knows, the majority of Americans know that the invasion of Iraq has gone wrong. It has failed, and the Bush administration is looking for a scapegoat. That’s why we have Mr. George Tenet resign and of course, then they say that if we got the information wrong on the weapons of mass destruction, it’s the fault of Ahmed Chalabi, who through his Iraqi National Congress gave us wrong information, so Chalabi is being made the fall guy. You have to remember and anybody who has looked at my book, Secrets and Lies, it is not Chalabi’s fault, it is basically, as we have seen, that Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld had made up their minds up front that they are going to invade Iraq and any information which supported this particular point of view or this particular decision made before actual information or intelligence. They welcomed any news which supported this notion whether it came from Ahmed Chalabi or even if it came from Mr. Allawi who was running the Iraqi National Accord. It was Mr. Allawi who had given the information that Saddam Hussein would be able to arm his missiles or his mortars with WMDs in 45 minutes. That is the big thing which was used by the Blair government in London to shore up support for invading Iraq. That information actually came from Mr. Allawi’s outfit called the Iraqi National Accord, I.N.A. Now the point is that Mr. Bush and his team are looking for a scapegoat, and Mr. Chalabi is the one who is being hounded, not that Mr. Chalabi is by any means an angel. Of course, he is, I have to say, in the habit of pinching other people’s money. As you know, he was prosecuted and tried in absentia because he ran away from Jordan where he had a bank called the Petrol Bank in 1989, and he was tried in absentia, found guilty of misappropriating money and fraud and given 22 years of hard labor. So, he has that background, but of course, all of that background was kept in the background when Mr. Chalabi was being promoted as the great white hope of post-Saddam Iraq. And now, of course, things have gone wrong, so Mr. Bush and his team are looking for a scapegoat. I think we have to bear this political agenda in mind when we are discussing Mr. Chalabi’s case.

AMY GOODMAN: Dilip Hiro, I also want to ask you about Salem Chalabi and about the closing of Al-Jazeera, but we have to break for 60 seconds. Then we’ll be back with the veteran Middle East journalist. He’s based in London. This is Democracy Now! After we finish our conversation with Dilip Hiro, we’ll hear President Bush answering questions from the largest gathering of North American journalists in this country’s history, sponsored by the four major journalists of color organizations, questions about legacy admissions versus affirmative action and his definition of sovereignty, then we’ll hear from Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, Norman Mailer. Stay with us.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! We’re talking about the arrest warrants issued for Ahmed Chalabi and his nephew Salem Chalabi on different charges. Ahmed Chalabi for counterfeiting money. Salem Chalabi, his nephew, who is head of the tribunal to try Saddam Hussein for murder, allegations that he was involved with the murder of a high level official in the Iraqi Finance Ministry in May. Dilip Hiro, our guest, Middle East journalist, your response to the Salem Chalabi charges?

DILIP HIRO: Yeah. I think that what’s happening in this case is that he has — of course, you know, he’s right now in London, but anyway, he has been invited by the Iranians to come to Tehran, and he has agreed to go to Tehran. In fact, I have been to Iran recently, so I know the story, that the Iranians are saying that when it comes to the charges against Saddam Hussein, one important charge which is missing is that Saddam Hussein invaded Iraq in 1980, and that should be included. And apparently if Chalabi, Salem Chalabi, is going to Tehran, he will discuss that.

AMY GOODMAN: Invaded Iran.

DILIP HIRO: The second thing the Iranians are pointing out is there are 100,000 victims of the chemical attacks that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq mounted against the Iranians in the 1980 to 1988 war. And that should also be included. So I think this will be again the political aspect. They don’t like Mr. Salem Chalabi to talk to Iranians and so on. As far as Al-Jazeera is concerned, I in fact heard this Al-Jazeera spokesman explaining that, you know, the two charges against them, one was that you, Al-Jazeera, you are saying — describing Mr. Allawi as interim prime minister. So, the spokesman said what’s the matter. He is an interim prime minister. He’s not the elected prime minister. And second charge, you know, against Al-Jazeera was that you were showing the videos of terrorists and so and so forth, to which the Al-Jazeera man said that we are not the only one. Al Arabiya and other television companies are showing these videos that were being, you know, put out and they are going on the websites, very easy for anybody to broadcast them so we are not the only ones to do it, and of course, this goes to show the whole thing about freedom of speech is being squashed, you know, by a government which itself is appointed by occupying power of the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much, Dilip Hiro for joining us. Dilip Hiro’s latest book, Secrets and Lies: Operation Iraqi Freedom and After. This is Democracy Now!

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