A few days ago Christopher Hitchens wrote an article in Slate defending Ahmed Chalabi against various press criticism. One of Hitchens' points is the following ...
In news stories as well as in opinion columns, it is repeatedly stated that Chalabi hasn't been in the country for many yearsâor since 1958. This contradicts my own memory and that of several other better-qualified witnesses. They recall him in northern Iraq many times and for long periods in the 1990s, helping to organize opposition conferences and to broker an agreement between the opposing Kurdish factions.The implication is that Chalabi is being slandered and falsely accused, that there is evidence he was in northern Iraq but that it is being covered up.
This statement is at best quite misleading.
You don't need to rely on anybody's recollection or witnesses. Everyone who has ever reported on or written about Chalabi -- friend or foe -- knows he ran an INC operation out of northern Iraq in the early-mid-1990s. When Chalabi was still supported by the CIA, he was running his operation from the part of Iraqi Kurdistan enjoying de facto autonomy under the protection of US-backed no-fly-zones. There's no mystery about this. EVERYONE KNOWS THIS.
People who are critical of Chalabi often say that he hasn't lived in Iraq since his adolescence. Often they'll add something like 'with the exception of a short period in northern Iraq protected by the US no-fly-zone', etc. Sometimes they don't add this.
But when they say this, the point they are trying to make is that he has never lived in Iraq as an adult -- with the exception of a short period as a would-be insurrectionist in Iraqi Kurdistan -- and thus that he enjoys none of the connections or familiarity with the country that one expects of an exiled opposition leader. This may or may not be a mark against him as a credible candidate for future political leadership or influence in Iraq. But it's certainly not an unreasonable point to raise. And the points it's meant to address are not nullified by a relatively brief period spent operating out of safehouses in northern Iraq.
Chalabi's period in northern Iraq is very good evidence of his willingness to put skin in the game, to put his own life in some danger in an effort to overthrow Saddam -- an important point in his favor. But it's not particularly relevant to the issue of when he went into exile from the country.
Hitchens is creating a false impression of mystery, cover-up and bias, when the facts on this point are clear to pretty much everyone.