Secrets and Lies: Author Dilip Hiro on Chalabi, the CIA and the Battle for Iraq

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With the June 30 deadline for the so-called transfer of power in Iraq just weeks away, we speak with author and veteran Middle East journalist Dilip Hiro whose trilogy of books on Iraq and Iran are considered some of the most definitive histories of the wars in the Persian Gulf. [includes rush transcript]

The June 30 deadline for the so-called transfer of power in Iraq is just weeks away and despite repeated US claims that the interim Iraqi government will have full sovereignty after the handover, it remains unclear what actual power it will have.

A revised UN resolution put forward by the US this week would allow Iraq to oversee its own military and police forces but 140,000 US troops would remain in Iraq and have the power to act at will. The interim government will not have the power to make laws or revoke any laws instituted by the U.S. occupying forces. It is not clear what will happen after June 30th to the thousands of Iraqis who are currently being detained — many of whom have never been charged with a crime.

U.S. soldiers and contractors will likely remain immune from criminal prosecution and liability in Iraq. Meanwhile under current rules, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations and the Arab Development Bank will supervise an “advisory and monitoring board” that will keep tabs on Iraq’s revenues and expenditures. And up to 160 U.S. advisors will continue working in the newly formed Iraqi ministries.

The make-up of the newly selected Iraqi interim government will be led by members of the Iraqi Governing Council which dissolved itself this week and was widely seen as illegitimate by the Iraqi people.

Now, one former Governing Council member and a key Bush administration ally is at the center of an intelligence leak scandal. Reports have emerged that the U.S.-backed Iraqi exile leader, Ahmed Chalabi, disclosed to an Iranian official one of Washington’s most guarded secrets about Iran — that it had broken Iran’s top-secret communications code allowing the U.S. to easily spy on Iran’s intelligence services.

In addition to the intelligence leak allegations, Newsweek is now reporting that Chalabi may have collected and maintained files of potentially damaging information on US officials in order to blackmail them.

Now the US is now backing another Iraqi exile with CIA ties–The new prime minister, Iyad Allawi, a former Baathist who also has ties to Saudi intelligence.

  • Dilip Hiro , a 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.

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

AMY GOODMAN: Right now we turn to Dilip Hiro, a 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.” Welcome, Dilip Hiro.

DILIP HIRO: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Well, can you talk about this latest scandal, talk about Ahmed Chalabi’s relationship with Iran and this intelligence leak.

DILIP HIRO: Of course the biographies of both of the leaders, in quote, leaders are in my book that you mentioned, “Secrets and Lies” and my earlier book, “Iraq: In The Eye of the Storm.” I have to say that [as far as] Allawi’s concerned, he had the distinction of not only working for the C.I.A. but also working for the British intelligence agency, MI-6. Very few people work for both at the same time. Now, his background is that he actually was a Ba’ath party official. He was —

AMY GOODMAN: This is the new prime minister?

DILIP HIRO: Mr. Allawi was in the Ba’ath party. He was the president of the Iraqi students living abroad, because he was a student in London. He was a medical student in London. And then he broke away in 1975, and of course he graduated and in 1978. He lived in a suburb of London called Richmond. There was an attack on him while was sleeping. Somebody tried to kill him and he was badly injured. Now, he came to prominence just before the 1991 Gulf War, because Saudis bankrolled him. He set up a radio station with the Saudi money. Now, there is a difference between him, Allawi, and Mr. Chalabi. The difference is that Mr. Chalabi — his parents left Iraq when he — at the ripe age of 11 years. And since then he has never been to Iraq, you see, because his father was a banker, and he was very close to the King of Iraq in those days. In 1958, there was an anti-royalist revolution and so he left. And of course Mr. Chalabi, of course, everybody knows by now that, you see, there are two things about Mr. Chalabi which are worth remembering: one is that he knows how to count, because he was professor in mathematics, so he knows how to count the money. You know, when he set up his bank, Petra Bank in Jordan, in Amman, it became the third most powerful bank because his father was a banker, for a lot of Petra money went into this. Secondly, he specializes in intelligence, involved in intelligence business. You know, and that again is in my book, both of these my books, “Secrets and Lies” and “Iraq: In the Eye of the Storm,” talk about — there was a warrant against him because $300 million disappeared from the Petra Bank. And a quarter of those — allegedly it went into his own pocket. And there was warrant on him. You know what happened? He hid in the trunk of a friend’s car, and a friend took him to Damascus. From Damascus, he went to Beirut and from there he arrived in Britain. And even though he had this background that he had, you know, that he had, shall I say, been involved in fraud, in the amount of 300 million dollars, he managed to get the British citizenship in 1992, so he had British citizenship.

AMY GOODMAN: And you’re not talking about Chalabi who also had this bank scandal in Jordan?

DILIP HIRO: No… We are talking about Chalabi — he participated in two things: one is how to move money around. Some of this, of course, moves into his pockets, and secondly is intelligence. He is in intelligence. Now he’s being accused. You know, he fed those facts about illusionary, or delusionary weapons of mass destruction which Saddam used to keep under his bed. You know he is the guy — but of course you can say it was Mr. Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld, they had made up their minds before, and they wanted to hear something which they knew they wanted to happen. Now they are blaming him because it’s become so blatant. You have to find some kind of … now what’s happening, one simple thing, what’s happening now is the falling out among thieves.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But why, in terms of the falling out, though, what has caused the United States suddenly to, so suddenly to drop him, because they dropped his financing in one week and raided his headquarters the next week?

DILIP HIRO: Yeah, I think I can give a very good understanding of that. See basically there have been two approaches to regime change in Baghdad. One is Mr. Allawi’s approach. He ran the Iraqi National Accord (INA), and the other is Mr. Chalabi’s Iraqi National Council (INC). Mr. Allawi and his cohorts they wanted a military coup against Saddam Hussein. Throw away Saddam Hussein and put somebody whose name is non-Saddam Hussein. That’s okay, quick transition, and a friendly government like in Saudi Arabia. OK. Then Mr. Chalabi, he belongs to what I call a 'pol pot' way of doing things. Year zero: go in and completely destroy the state, disband the army and disband the police and disband intelligence and disband the Ba’ath party and start absolutely clean. And so Mr. Chalabi is with the neo-cons who want to rearrange the world in their own image, and what has happened, Fallujah is the point where changes come about. Because in Fallujah, you could see that if Bush was going to push all the way, he had to raze the whole city of 300 thousand to get his way. And that’s where Mr. Bush, whose attention span is no more than 15 seconds, and you only ask him what should we do, what should we do? So he had a video conference and they said, 'compromise.' You see that’s when the old military guys came back, that means basically the Allawi-I.N.A. approach is in, [and] Chalabi is out. And of course don’t expect Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney to announce we are switching from plan A to plan B.

AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to Dilip Hiro; he is author of the book, “Secrets and Lies: Operation Iraqi Freedom and After”. He is talking about Ahmed Chalabi and Iyad Allawi, the new prime minister of Iraq. This is Democracy Now. We’ll be back with him in a minute.

AMY GOODMAN: Democracy Now!, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman here with Juan Gonzalez. We’re talking to Dilip Hiro, author of “Secrets and Lies: Operation 'Iraqi Freedom' and After.” We’re talking about Ahmad Chalabi and his fall from US presidential grace. His home has been raided. Now it turns out that he told the Iranian government that the US had broken their code, was monitoring all their communications. The US learned of this, is this right, by monitoring the communications between Iran and a representative in Iraq as they were sending this information back to Iran, and they — because they had broken the code they learned of what Ahmad Chalabi was doing.

DILIP HIRO: It’s interesting that Chalabi was someplace where a drunken American, who knew about the breaking of the code, spilled the beans or spilled the alcohol, I should say, and that’s where he’s supposed to pick up the thing. You might say, why did he tell anybody? You have to start with the fact because of the disappearance of $300 million in 1989 and Mr. Chalabi’s conviction, if he steps into Jordan, he will be handcuffed, taken to not Abu Ghraib. There’s no Abu Ghraib in Jordan, to a high security jail and put there for 22 years with hard labor.

AMY GOODMAN: What’s that for?

DILIP HIRO: Because of his fraud he committed in 1992. Most people can’t go directly to Iraq; they have to go to Jordan, most of them. He can’t go through Jordan, and therefore he has to go to Iran. That’s why he had to get out of that. Plus, would you believe that with the understanding of American government, he set up the INC office in Tehran, with American, shall I say, prodding. Last time he was there, he publicly said he went and kissed the ring of the Supreme Leader of Iran, Khomeini. He had a meeting with him. He had a meeting with Khatami, and I don’t know whether he stole it then, or later on. He essentially has fairly good relations with Iran. You might say that Mr. Bush was trying to be friendly. He said Senator Dole wants to come you, and they said, please, back off, don’t be too close to us. So, I think this is already murky. Whether he did it or didn’t do it, but the bottom line is simple: if you are in the business of intelligence, you are compromised.

AMY GOODMAN: Iyad Allawi, the prime minister’s connections to Saudi Arabia and Saudi intelligence?

DILIP HIRO: He’s there, but he tried to keep himself more on the military side in the Ba’ath party official said. He did not — there are examples where the whole thing that the British were saying that Saddam had WMD’s, which are in the battlefield, and he can fire them in 45 minutes. That information actually came from Allawi’s outfit in the INA the Iraqi National Accord, because he had good connections with the military. He was feeding information, of course, but I don’t think that Mr. Allawi’s mathematics is so good to make money around quickly.

JUAN GONZALEZ: From your long experience in the region, studying the region, how do you see now the situation with the United Nations’ role in attempting to create this partially pregnant situation of a nation that has no military to protect its sovereignty?

DILIP HIRO: It’s very simple. It’s called packaging. It’s the old line in a new bottle. Nothing’s changed. I’m not, by any means, being biased. When Mr. Brahimi arrived, and he had a good spokesman, Mr. Ahmad Fawzi, he’s a very smooth guy, he said Mr. Brahimi will go for technocrats who are honest and who have no political ambitions. That will be the interim government. His only job will be to set up things for elections in 2005. What has actually happened? The same usual suspects who have — the puppets created by the USA, they have appointed fellow puppets. So, nothing has changed. Of the five top leaders, the prime minister, the president and two vice president and deputy prime minister, three of them, who until the day before yesterday were members of the Governing Council, and two others belong to the Kurdish Democratic Party, they are with the Americans.

AMY GOODMAN: And the foreign minister, who now the UN wants to consult with, Hoshyar Zebari?

DILIP HIRO: Yeah, he belongs to the Kurdish Democratic Party. He had is a Kurd. Kurds are 15% of the population of Iraq. He is representing Iraq which is an Arab country. He’s there, but for how long? People keep talking here about civil war between Sunis and Shias, what will happen if we leave. If there going to be an internal conflict, it will be Kurds and Arabs. Kurds have been 100% collaborating with the US occupying force. Arabs don’t like that. You know, in Falluja, the only battalion that actually fought the insurgents, half of them were Kurds. The Kurds are playing, in my view, a very dangerous game. It’s almost like if you can imagine the USA occupied by the Brazilian troops and all African-Americans were cooperating with them. That’s what’s happening. There’s going to be backlash, you know? I’m afraid that Mr. — the foreign minister right now …


DILIP HIRO: Yes, Zabari, he is very fluent in English, that’s the number one qualification. But the fact that he’s a Kurd, I don’t think he will have his job in the next three or four months.

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