Iraqi exile leader Ahmad Chalabi was one of the most sordid figures in the run-up to the Iraq war. Paid by the Bush administration to muster pre-war intelligence, Chalabi drummed up claims that Saddam Hussein had WMD, helping lead the United States into war. More recently, he promoted the “surge” to the Iraqi government.
One of his key backers has been John McCain, who was one of the first patrons of Chalabi’s grand-sounding International Committee for a Free Iraq when it was founded in 1991. McCain was Chalabi’s favored candidate in the 2000 election since Chalabi knew that he would be able to free up the $97 million in military aid plus millions pushed through in Congress and earmarked for Chalabi’s exile group, the Iraqi National Congress, but held up by the Clinton State Department.
Indeed, McCain was a Chalabi backer long before President Bush took power. In 1997, he tried to pressure the Clinton administration into setting up an Iraqi government in exile. Despite opposition from the Pentagon and the State Department, the next fall, McCain co-sponsored the Iraq Liberation Act, committing the United States to overthrowing Saddam and funding opposition groups. According to a 2006 article by John Judis:
McCain welcomed Ahmed Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), to Washington and pressured the administration to give him money. When General Anthony Zinni cast doubt upon the effectiveness of the Iraqi opposition, McCain rebuked him at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
In 2003, McCain joined four other Republican senators and asked Bush to “personally clear the bureaucratic roadblocks within the State Department” that blocked increased funding for the Chalabi’s group.
Also that year, McCain said of Chalabi, “He’s a patriot who has the best interests of his country at heart.”