The Los Angeles Times & the NNDB Database – 2014-06-23 01:01:35
US Officials Said To Be Pushing for the Removal of Iraq’s Leader
Shashank Bengali and Nabih Bulos / The Los Angeles Times
BAGDAHD (June 19, 2014) — US officials are actively pushing for the removal of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and have held meetings with senior politicians who are angling to replace the embattled leader, according to Iraqi officials and a report Thursday.
The US ambassador to Baghdad, Robert S. Beecroft, and a senior State Department official, Brett McGurk, met this week with former Iraqi exile leader Ahmad Chalabi and parliament speaker Usama Nujaifi, as well as other possible candidates to replace Maliki.
The Shiite Muslim prime minister has seen large chunks of Iraq seized in recent days by Sunni militants fighting under the banner of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, an Al Qaeda splinter group.
Beecroft and McGurk met with Chalabi, a Shiite, at his house in Baghdadâ€™s Mansour neighborhood for more than an hour Wednesday, said a Chalabi aide, Entifadh Qanbar. They discussed â€œthe current security escalations and future formations of the government,â€ Qanbar said. He declined to elaborate.
The meetings, first reported by the New York Times, are the clearest signal yet that the Obama administration has decided Maliki must step down after the rapid gains by ISIS militants.
Maliki has been widely accused of running a Shiite dictatorship, marginalizing minority Sunnis and ethnic Kurds. The recent violence, along with a call to arms by the leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, has raised fear that Iraq could lapse back into the sectarian bloodletting of the mid-2000s.
President Obama said last week that US military assistance to Malikiâ€™s government would be contingent on him building a more inclusive government.
He announced Thursday that the United States is prepared to send as many as 300 military advisors to Iraq to help government forces fend off the Islamic militants, but urged the countryâ€™s leaders to seek a political resolution to the crisis.
On Capitol Hill, a growing number of lawmakers are also beginning to call for leadership change.
â€œThe Maliki government, candidly, has got to go if you want any reconciliation,â€ Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said at a hearing Wednesday.
Meanwhile, there were reports of fresh fighting Thursday as Iraqâ€™s government and the insurgents vied for control of the countryâ€™s largest oil refinery.
Authorities insisted that their forces successfully fought off an attack on the refinery in Baiji, about 125 miles north of Baghdad, a key link in Iraqâ€™s energy chain. But other reports indicated that militants had not been completely expelled from the sprawling facility. Smoke was seen billowing from the complex, according to various accounts.
Losing the Baiji facility would be a strategic and symbolic blow for the government, which is trying to project an image of regrouping after a series of humiliating military defeats. The power outages and gasoline shortages that would result from losing the refinery could further sap public confidence in the nationâ€™s shaky central government.
Seizing the refinery would also be an economic coup for the militants, who have captured oil fields in eastern Syria.
Many diplomats fear that Iraq could be on the verge of disintegration or the kind of all-out civil war that has ravaged neighboring Syria.
The conflict also appears to have aggravated already tense relations between Saudi Arabia, the major Sunni power in the Persian Gulf region, and Shiite Iran, which is a close ally of Malikiâ€™s government.
The two regional powers are engaged in a proxy battle in Syria and appear to be lining up on different sides in the Iraqi conflict. The Iranian government has pledged to do whatever it takes to protect Shiite shrines in Iraq under threat from Sunni militants.
On Thursday, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al Faisal said at a news conference in Jeddah that Iraq risks falling into a civil war â€œwith unpredictable consequences for the region.â€
The Iraqi government has accused Saudi Arabia of providing financial and moral support to the Sunni militants.
But the Saudi foreign minister put the blame squarely on Maliki, saying his â€œsectarian policies of exclusionâ€ of Iraqâ€™s Sunni minority population had precipitated the crisis.
â€œHe accuses the kingdom that it is the sponsor of terrorism,â€ Saud said. â€œThis accusation is ridiculous…. Malikiâ€™s sectarian policies are the reason for the deterioration of the situation in Iraq.â€
Times staff writer Bengali reported from Baghdad and special correspondent Bulos from Irbil, Iraq. Times staff writer Patrick J. McDonnell in Beirut contributed to this report.
Who Is Ahmed Chalabi, AKA Ahmed Abdel Hadi Chalabi?
NNBD: Tracking the Entire World
Ahmed Chalabi was the head of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), a group of Iraqi exiles brought together and funded by the US government. Its members sought to topple Saddam Hussein and become the new, improved government of Iraq.
Chalabi is charming and erudite, coming from a family that held several high positions in the Iraqi government before Hussein came along. Chalabi’s father was President of the Iraqi Senate. After Hussein took power, though, the Chalabi family fled Iraq, and then-12-year-old Ahmed was raised in Britain. He studied math at MIT, obtained his Ph.D in mathematics at the University of Chicago, and taught math at the American University in Beirut until 1977.
Until the second Gulf War in 2003, Chalabi was considered a front-runner to replace Hussein, and at the highest levels of the US government, Chalabi was long considered an excellent source for inside information on Iraq. Throughout the build-up to the 2003 war, he was paid $335,000 monthly by the Pentagon for providing intelligence. Additional sums paid by the State Department to the INC exceeded $33 million, according to a US General Accounting office report in 2004.
State Department officials, concerned about these expenditures, conducted an audit of Chalabi’s group in early 2001. Auditors could not find any evidence the funds had been misused, but they also could not find receipts accounting for about $465,000. In response, according to unnamed sources at the State Department, the Bush White House strongly suggested that there should be no further audits of Chalabi.
This was not the first hint of financial irregularities in Chalabi’s career. In 1977, he started the Petra Bank in Jordan. It very quickly grew to be one of that nation’s largest banks. Then the Jordanian dinar’s value took a dive, and Jordan’s central bank required that banks deposit 35% of their holdings into the central bank’s reserves.
Other Jordanian banks complied, but Petra Bank failed to meet the deposit requirement. An audit ensued, regulators determining that as much as half a billion dollars in depositors’ money had been transferred to other businesses and financial institutions owned by the Chalabi family.
But Chalabi, like the money, was nowhere to be found. He had reportedly been smuggled out of the country in the trunk of an employee’s car. He was charged in absentia on 31 counts of theft, embezzlement and other deeds, receiving a sentence of 22 years hard labor. Thus far Chalabi has not expressed any interest in returning to Jordan to start serving his time.
Chalabi says that his bank was utterly on the up-and-up, and the audit, investigation, and prosecution were politically motivated. His daughter and unofficial spokesman Tamara Chalabi says, “Petra Bank was seized and destroyed by those in the Jordanian establishment who’d become willing to do Saddam Hussein’s bidding.”
All this, though, was moot in 2002 and 2003, as Chalabi advised the Pentagon and Bush Administration on what to expect from Iraqis during and after an American invasion. He explained that, after an attack by American forces, Iraq’s government would quickly but quite neatly collapse.
Iraq’s workers and bureaucrats would continue working and bureaucrating for a new Iraqi government, as they had under the old regime. Iraqi society would remain generally stable, and after an invasion, most Iraqis would be eager to thank their American liberators.
US intelligence officials, on the other hand, were generally skeptical of Chalabi, and wary of his optimistic predictions. Several high-ranking intelligence officers repeatedly warned that the postwar period would be much more difficult than Chalabi foresaw.
In addition to giving invaluable inside information to the Bush administration, Chalabi and the INC worked closely with a handful of reporters in the American media. He worked especially well with Judith Miller, an oddly-well-connected reporter for The New York Times.
Miller wrote a series of articles for The Times, providing details and background information about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq — articles which undoubtedly would have won her a Pulitzer had there been any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Alas, there were not, and her primary source had been Chalabi.
In 2003, the US invaded Iraq, and the subsequent occupation proved more and more unpopular, followed in 2004 by the installation of a US-controlled “sovereign” Iraqi government. As for Chalabi’s role in governing the new Iraq, he seems unlikely to be the people’s choice in democratic elections. Chalabi has little backing inside Iraq, which, remember, he left when he was 12.
Outside of Iraq — and more specifically, outside the US — Chalabi’s credentials as a legitimate Iraqi leader have long been questioned. In 1995, with CIA funding, Chalabi stayed with the Kurdish resistance in the country’s northern region, preparing to lead an uprising.
The CIA decided that either Chalabi or the operation was untenable, and pulled the plug before it started. During an interview in early 2004, Chalabi shrugged off growing concerns from Americans that he may have deliberately misled US intelligence.
“We are heroes in error. As far as we’re concerned, we’ve been entirely successful. That tyrant Saddam is gone and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important. The Bush administration is looking for a scapegoatâ€¦ We’re ready to fall on our swords if [President Bush] wants.”
On 19 May 2004, The US announced that effective in July 2004 Chalabi’s INC would no longer receive its $335,000 monthly allowance. In dawn raids the next morning, Iraqi police and American troops surrounded Chalabi’s headquarters and home in Baghdad, arrested two of his aides, and searched the premises.
US officials now suspected something that apparently never occurred to them before the war: that Chalabi, who isn’t an American, was not entirely loyal to the American side. Insiders say he was illicitly funneling information on American plans to the Iranian government, while helping the US form its Iraq policy and plan its Iraq war.
Chalabi’s Criminal History:
Embezzlement: Sentenced to 22 years labor in Jordan
Pardoned by King Abdullah II 11-May-2005
Counterfeiting: Charged 9-Aug-2004 in Iraq
Assassination Attempt: 1-Sep-2004 in Latifiya, Iraq (convoy attacked)
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