Chalabi Attacks Shaalan Rivalry

Chalabi attacks Shaalan

The rivalry between Iyad Allawi [Arabic link] and Ahmad Chalabi has heated up two weeks before the January 30 elections.

Jon Lee Anderson points out in his New Yorker piece, Allawi was a long-time member of the Baath Party, and is now a secular, tough pragmatist. He organized other ex-Baathists, especially officers and intelligence men, in his Iraqi National Accord, initially for MI6 (British intelligence) and then from the early 1990s in cooperation with the United States. Allawi’s secular al-Iraqiyyah list is the most prominent competitor with the United Iraqi Alliance, the slate that groups the major Shiite religious parties.

When the US and the UN appointed Iyad Allawi interim prime minister last June, they knew that he would rehabilitate many Baathists and bring him into the government. They hoped he would correct for the excesses of de-Baathification, a policy of simply firing thousands of middle and low-ranking members of the party, most of the Sunni Arabs, from their jobs. De-Baathification was the brainchild of corrupt financier and political gadfly Ahmad Chalabi, at one time the favorite of the Department of Defense civilians. Chalabi had gradually lost favor, in part because of his close contacts with Tehran and allegations that he had passed the mullas sensitive information.

Allawi appointed ex-Baathists to key cabinet posts. Falah al-Naqib, the son of a prominent Baath official who ultimately became Iraq’s ambassador to Sweden and defected in the late 1970s, became minister of the interior (in Iraq, this is sort of like being director of the FBI). For Defense, Allawi tapped an obscure man named Hazem al-Shaalan. Al-Shaalan was known as a former Baathist from al-Hillah (and therefore probably a secular Shiite).

Shaalan is even more of a hardliner than Allawi. On getting into office, he declared Iran to be Iraq’s number one enemy, a sort of discourse that hearkened back to Baath propaganda of the 1980s. He took the lead in demanding military action against the Mahdi Army in Najaf, and was enthusiastic about the US campaign against Fallujah and its Sunni fundamentalist guerrillas.

Now Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress has posted a dossier on Shaalan accusing him of spying for Saddam’s intelligence apparatus (the mukhabarat) beginning in 1998 and up until the spring of 2003. Indeed, the web site claims that Shaalan personally spied on Ahmad Chalabi for Saddam. It says he operated in Europe under the code name 5H until early 2003, when he became Haydar Ahmad. He is said to have met with a high Saddamist intelligence official in Morocco in 2000. He also is accused of giving Saddam reports on Chalabi’s own meetings with British and Iranian officials.

Since Chalabi is a world-class liar and has never produced most of the documents he says prove his various allegations over the years, his attack on Shaalan cannot be taken too seriously until he releases the documents he says he has. Even then, the only logical explanation for Shaalan’s sudden rise from obscurity to the Iraqi cabinet is that he was a double agent, actually working for the CIA against Baath intelligence while pretending to gather intelligence for them. (If the most he told them was that Ahmad Chalabi was meeting with the British and Iranians, he was taking Saddam for a ride. I could have told them that.)

The INC is demanding that Shaalan be disallowed from running as a candidate for parliament list by the electoral commission, as a recent Baathist spy.

One implication of the article is that the lists running against the UIA, such as those of Yawir (on which Shaalan is running) and Allawi (with whom Shaalan is associated) are full of persons who had been close to Saddam until fairly recently, an association deeply resented by Shiite Iraqis. So, this campaign against Shaalan must be seen as a species of negative campaigning, Iraqi style.