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Chalabi, Ahmad (1944–) - PERSONAL HISTORY, INFLUENCES AND CONTRIBUTIONS, BIOGRAPHICAL HIGHLIGHTS, PERSONAL CHRONOLOGY:, THE WORLD’S PERSPECTIVE, LEGACY

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Controversial even before the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, Ahmad Abd al-Hadi Chalabi more than any other Iraqi was associated with the American decision to invade Iraq and topple the government of SADDAM HUSSEIN .

PERSONAL HISTORY

Chalabi, a member of a Shi’ite Muslim banking family with close ties to the Hashemite kingdom installed by the British imperial authorities in Baghdad, Iraq, after World War I, was born in Baghdad on 30 October 1944. His father, Abd al-Hadi Chalabi, was a cabinet member under the monarchy. Because of their close ties to the monarchy, Chalabi and his family fled Iraq in July 1958 during the bloody military coup that established a republic. Ahmad Chalabi obtained a B.S. in mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1965, and a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Chicago in 1969. He taught mathematics at the American University of Beirut thereafter until 1977.

INFLUENCES AND CONTRIBUTIONS

In 1977 Chalabi left Lebanon and founded Petra Bank in Jordan. When the Jordanian government announced in August 1989 that all Jordanian banks needed to deposit 30 percent of their reserves with the Central Bank of Jordan, Petra Bank was the only one that did not. Chalabi fled the country; the bank collapsed when it was discovered that it had a more than $200 million deficit, and he subsequently was tried and convicted in abstentia of bank fraud by a Jordanian military court in 1992.

BIOGRAPHICAL HIGHLIGHTS

Name: Ahmad Chalabi

Birth: 1944, Baghdad, Iraq

Family: Married, wife: Leila Osseiran (Lebanese); four children

Nationality: Iraqi

Education: B.S. (mathematics), Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1965; Ph.D. (mathematics), University of Chicago, 1969

PERSONAL CHRONOLOGY:

  • 1977: Establishes Petra Bank in Jordan
  • 1989: Flees Jordan when Petra Bank collapses
  • 1992: Sentenced in abstentia to twenty-two years in prison by Jordanian military court; establishes Iraqi National Congress (INC)
  • 1996: Iraqi offensive uproots INC headquarters in Irbil
  • 2003: United States invades Iraq
  • 2004: Iraqi government issues warrant for his arrest
  • 2005: Minister of oil, deputy prime minister in the Iraqi government

Chalabi turned to Iraqi politics after his bank collapsed in 1989. He became a leading but controversial opponent of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein who, in June 1992, helped found the Iraqi National Congress (INC) in London. Until Chalabi’s Pentagon-staged return during the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, he had lived in exile for forty-five years. When he studied at MIT and the University of Chicago, he developed connections that would later serve his ambitions. He had relative success lobbying the U.S. halls of power for “regime change” in Iraq, particularly among so-called neoconservatives who were out of power during the administration of President Bill Clinton in the 1990s. Clinton did support Chalabi, however. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) poured millions of dollars into the INC, which by the mid-1990s had a small army in the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq. An INC-planned military offensive in March 1995 failed, and the following year, Iraqi army forces pushed the INC out of northern Iraq, capturing and executing dozens of its leaders. An attempted March 1996 military coup against Saddam also failed.

Despite such setbacks, Chalabi persisted. He claimed credit for passage of the February 1998 Iraqi Liberation Act by the U.S. Congress, which provided for $97 million to be provided for the overthrow of Saddam. Much if not most of this ended up going to the INC. Chalabi’s critics allege that he promised to privatize Iraqi oil and privilege U.S. companies in return for U.S. assistance in grabbing power in Baghdad. Doubts were being expressed about Chalabi’s reliability in the halls of power in Washington, but he had influential friends in the Pentagon and the media. His sources provided much of the information about alleged Iraqi weapons of mass destruction upon which the administration of President George W. Bush relied in making the case for invading Iraq to the American people and the world, information that later was found to be faulty and often downright false. Chalabi also assured the Americans that the Ba’thist regime would topple quickly, and that the Iraqi people would welcome the Americans as liberators. After the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, the United States appointed him to the Iraqi Governing Council that was formed to help American occupation officials run the country.

THE WORLD’S PERSPECTIVE

Chalabi proved to be one of the most divisive and controversial figures associated with the American-led war against Iraq. He and the INC had negligible support within the country, both before and after the invasion. His support among the U.S. State Department and intelligence professionals waned even more after the invasion, when the Pentagon’s predictions about Iraq, based mostly on intelligence provided by the INC, turned out to be inaccurate. However, he continued to have the support of the Pentagon. Even this began to fade. In addition to doubts expressed about the quality of the supposed intelligence he had been supplying before the war, questions were raised about the INC’s finances. In May 2004, American troops raided the INC’s offices in Baghdad as part of an investigation into the group. In August 2004, the Iraqi government issued an arrest warrant against him, but he was out of the country at the time. The government never did go on to prosecute Chalabi, who eventually went on to serve as minister of oil in the interim Iraqi government in April-May 2005 and again in December 2005–January 2006. He also was deputy prime minister from May 2005 until May 2006. In the December 2005 parliamentary elections in Iraq, the INC did not win a single seat. He went on to head Iraq’s Supreme National Commission for De-Ba’thification.

LEGACY

Chalabi will forever be remembered as a key figure behind the American decision to invade Iraq in 2003.

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