u n c o v e r I r a q . c o m

[First published in the Minnepaolis StarTribune on October 4, 2003]

Ah, To Be the Breath of Iraq's Liberation
by Drew Hamre

Ahmed Chalabi headed Iraq's governing council during September. It's reported that Chalabi "had significant, and controversial, influence on America's Iraq policy before the war, through his contacts in Washington. Chalabi and defectors presented by his group were among key sources for U.S. intelligence that claimed Saddam had chemical and biological weapons ... ." - Associated Press, StarTribune, Oct. 1.

You are Ahmed Chalabi! You left Iraq when you were 12 years old, but history doesn't matter. You are the future of Iraq, and the very breath of its liberation. So go, you Armani-clad warrior, to arms, and ride with the wind.

You're Ahmed Chalabi! You collect a Ph.D. from Wolfowitz's school. You collect 31 felony indictments from Jordan. You collect friends from every gutter of the Beltway (Donald Rumsfeld, Joseph Lieberman, John McCain). You finagle the promise of $97 million from Congress! Now suit up, you Rolex-armored samurai. Go with the wind.

You are Ahmed Chalabi! "The time to overthrow Saddam is now," you write in 1993. But your 1995 putsch is squashed. ("Putsch": the sound it made.) Perhaps the news disturbs you at your London club. A quick steam; you gird your loins. A glance in the gilded mirror. Oh! Resplendent warhawk!

You are Ahmed Chalabi! The media is besotted; the Iraqi-threat storyline is the purest gold. BBC2 reports on Saddam's A-bomb test under Lake Rezazza. Your defectors told this tale! ("And so quiet, this bomb," seismologists snickered in Tel Aviv and Damascus.) The engineer Al-Haideri who built weapons labs in tunnels! Inspired! Your fable in the New York Times and StarTribune! Iraq's pressurized-water reactor! Your gossip! In the Wall Street Journal! You hire a former CIA director to represent you. Prague! Anthrax! The Trade Center bomb! McVeigh! There is no bugle to which Woolsey does not charge. In combatting Saddam, where is the line between delusional paranoia and good PR?

Yellowcake! "Not my tale," you say, and who can contradict? The investigation stalls and stinks in Congress, like a raccoon rotting in a chimney flue.

You are Ahmed Chalabi! The State Department questions your accounting and freezes your funds. But you hint that Iraq's oil contracts might be redrawn. Suddenly money seems not a concern, dear boy. UNSCOM, the CIA, the DIA, the State Department and the Joint Chiefs have cast you aside, but no matter. You whisper directly into the credulous, Fox-like ears of the world.

And so war comes, and thousands die. You return by night, unannounced, airlifted into a cloistered compound. You take your place on the council, and show your disrespectful feet to the legions of the conquered. You are Ahmed Chalabi. Thousands more die, and again, and again. Beneath your feet, the oozing trillions. There is no end in sight.

Eighty-seven billion dollars is merely the latest installment. We can't afford new border guards. We can't hire marshals in the air or terminal security on the ground. We can't spend scant millions to disarm Soviet weaponry, can't even squeeze the topic onto Vladimir Putin's agenda while we beg instead for troops. God knows what we've ignited in Iran and North Korea. The shuttle is aground and the grid is dark. We can't afford to protect the airlines against Stingers, nor protect troop transports, nor pay veterans the benefits they were promised. The federal debt will strip our feral children bare. And if Boeings hit the Towers today, would even pliant Britain gasp or jeer?

You are Ahmed Chalabi! The government flies you to Manhattan, and you take Iraq's seat at the U.N. the very night President Bush pleads to the Assembly, echoing Warren Zevon's great song of plans gone awry: "Send lawyers, guns and money. It has hit the fan."

And you aren't surprised to learn that Zevon died that night with a smirk on his lips, because that is the way the world works. And you are Ahmed Chalabi.


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