Do Former Chalabi Supporters Have Any Credibility On Who Is/Isn’t An ‘Iranian Agent’?

ScheunemannChalabiThe political scene in Iraq has been roiled over the past several weeks by the controversial decision by Iraq’s Accountability and Justice Commission to ban some 500 political candidates from competing in the March elections because of past ties to the Ba’athist Party. Sunnis have expressed fears that next month’s elections will leave them further disenfranchised, and many suspect Iran of a central role in the banning.

Today, my friend Eli Lake reports that Gen. Raymond Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, has “accused Ali Faisal al-Lami, the executive director of the Accountability and Justice Commission along with Ahmad Chalabi, the panel’s chairman, of being ‘clearly influenced by Iran.'”

Gen. Odierno said both men, according to intelligence reports, were in close contact with Abu-Mahdi al-Muhandis, the top Iraqi adviser to Iran’s Quds Force commander. The Quds Force comprises Iran’s unconventional military units, which have orchestrated anti-U.S. paramilitary and political operations in Iraq. […]

Francis Brooke, the Washington adviser to Mr. al-Lami’s patron, Mr. Chalabi, said Gen. Odierno showed a “profound lack of understanding of Iraqi politics.”

Mr. Brooke added, “Every senior Iraqi politician, particularly the Kurdish and Shi’ite parties, has diplomatic relations with Iran and concerning Ali Faisal al-Lami, Gen. Odierno acknowledges that he had no evidence to demonstrate this charge. The Iraqi National Congress and the Iraqi parliament has complete confidence in Ali Faisal al-Lami’s management of the Accountability and Justice Commission.”

Yes, it’s true: Iran has a lot of influence in Iraq. This has been the case for a long time, but the people who got us into Iraq seem to have been the last to learn it. And while Gen. Odierno’s assertion of Chalabi’s Iran connections is noteworthy for its bluntness, it’s certainly not news that Ahmad Chalabi himself has close ties to Iran.

It’s important to remember here what a darling Chalabi used to be of the neoconservatives, and what a central role Chalabi played in providing false intelligence that fed the neoconservatives’ case for the invasion of Iraq, even after the CIA had determined Chalabi to be untrustworthy. Neocon operatives like Brooke (*) and Randy Scheunemann (who’s now serving as Sarah Palin’s foreign policy adviser) squired him from office to office on Capitol Hill as he told and retold his lies about nonexistent Iraqi WMDs and Saddam’s nonexistent alliance with Al Qaeda.

Even after the invasion, after it became clear that there were no WMD and no Saddam-Al Qaeda alliance, and that, despite his claims of a massive following, Chalabi had no genuine political base in Iraq, the neocons — such as Michael Rubin and Eli Lake himself — continued to promote him as Iraq’s savior. That became a lot harder after Chalabi’s party — which ran on the slogan “We Liberated Iraq!” — received a pathetic 0.36 percent of the vote in Iraq’s December 2005 elections, not even enough to secure a single seat for Chalabi himself.

Eventually, Chalabi was disavowed by the Bush administration, judged to be an “agent of influence” of Iran, suspected of having tipped off the Iranians that the U.S. had broken secret Iranian codes, as well as passing Iraqi government documents to Iranian agents. The Defense Intelligence Agency concluded — in 2004 — that “Iranian intelligence has been manipulating the United States through Chalabi.” Needless to say, none of this speaks very well of the judgment of Chalabi’s neoconservative fans.

Now consider the recent neoconservative attacks on Trita Parsi of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) and Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett of the New America Foundation for their advocacy of U.S.-Iran engagement. Back in November, Lake published a piece that suggested, on the flimsiest of evidence, that Parsi was an agent of the Iranian regime. The piece was hailed as a blockbuster in neoconservative circles, in some cases by the very people who had boosted Ahmad Chalabi. (Here is NIAC’s response.)

Earlier this month, Lee Smith, a fellow at the neoconservative Hudson Institute (and author of a new book whose deeply insightful and original thesis is that the Arab only understands force), published a piece accusing the Leveretts of being lobbyists for the Iranian regime. (Here is the Leverett’s response.)

Today Smith followed up with an attack on Parsi, even thinner than Lake’s (and using Lake’s as a source), exploring the question of whether Parsi is “a good guy or a bad guy, or simply an immigrant on the make.” (Stay classy, Lee Smith!) Smith’s piece also includes a disparaging quote from Chalabi-fan Michael Rubin. Among Smith’s offenses to responsible journalism, he neglects to mention, just as did Lake, that NIAC has been raising awareness of the Iranian regime’s human rights violations since 2007. Which is, of course, precisely the sort of thing you’d need to neglect if your goal was to smear someone as an Iranian regime agent.

As a former Chalabi booster himself, I think Eli deserves some credit for reporting on the latest evidence of Chalabi’s perfidy. But that aside, the double-standard here is pretty obvious, and pretty grim. On the one hand, you’ve got a guy whose double-dealing and treachery helped get Americans killed. On the other, you’ve got people who think that attempting to achieve rapprochement between the U.S. and Iran is in the U.S. interest, and should therefore be pursued (though, at least in Parsi’s case, not to the exclusion of human rights concerns). It’s interesting who the neocons think the real villains are. And it’s amazing that they should consider themselves credible to attack the integrity of others after having been duped by an IRGC-connected swindler like Ahmad Chalabi.


In Lee Smith’s piece on Parsi, Smith quoted Pooya Dayanim, president of the Iranian-Jewish Public Affairs Committee (an organization that appears not to have a website), saying: “In October, Genieve Abdo”—an Iran analyst who lived in Tehran as a journalist for several years—“was making fun of the demonstrators. Not anymore.”

This sounded odd to me, as I know Abdo, who is the editor of the great website Inside Iran. I contacted her for a comment, here’s her response:

“I have never made fun of the demonstrators. I have stressed that it is unwise to underestimate the strength of the state, but I have also emphasized that the opposition movement, unlike ten years ago, is a permanent force in Iranian politics.”

Those interested in Abdo’s views on Iran can check out a panel discussion I moderated here at CAP earlier this month, Elevating Human Rights on the U.S. Policy Agenda for Iran, in which she was a participant.

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