Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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Ahmed who? From Robin Wright's piece in Friday's Post ...

"The vast majority of reports of his proximity to and influence on administration policy have been greatly exaggerated," said a senior administration official involved in Iraq policy who knows Chalabi. "The reality is that he was among a wide variety of Iraqi figures who made the case to an array of American officials over a period of time for the liberation of the Iraqi people."

Ask not for whom the memory-hole sucks, Ahmed; it sucketh for you ...

For years the backdrop to the Chalabi question <$NoAd$> was his 1992 conviction in absentia on charges of embezzlement in Jordan. To his American critics this was the crux of who Chalabi was: a crook. To his American partisans it was a political conviction, a slur, a price Chalabi had paid for earlier opposition to Saddam. (The Jordanians had, so the story went, turned on Chalabi at Saddam's behest.)

Now read this: a few grafs at the end of Post's piece on the Chalabi raid ...

For several months, U.S. officials have been investigating people affiliated with the INC for possible ties to a scheme to defraud the Iraqi government during the transition to a new currency that took place from Oct. 15 last year to Jan. 15, according to a U.S. occupation authority official familiar with the case. The official said the raids were partly related to that investigation.

At the center of the inquiry is Nouri, whom Chalabi picked as the top anti-corruption official in the new Iraqi Finance Ministry. Chalabi heads the Governing Council's finance committee, and has major influence in its staffing and operation.

When auditors early this year began counting the old Iraqi dinars brought in and the new Iraqi dinars given out in return, they discovered a shortfall of more than $22 million. Nouri, a German national, was arrested in April and faces 17 charges including extortion, fraud, embezzlement, theft of government property and abuse of authority. He is being held in a maximum security facility, according to three sources close to the investigation.

Speaks for itself.

Ahhh nothing like money well spent ...

According to a new GAO report, from March 2000 to September 2003, the State Department doled out some $33 million to Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress.

You can see the highlights of the report here and the whole deal here.

Of course, by a rather more expansive, though not unjust, measure, we dropped around $300 billion on our association with the Chalabi crew.

In Slate this afternoon, Chris Suellentrop, has a short profile of Doug Feith, the man who put the FU in the FUBAR that is the American adventure in Iraq. The subheading of the piece pretty much says it all: "What has the Pentagon's third man done wrong? Everything."

Feith has become the living, breathing, employed example of the fact that epochal screw-ups are the best source of job security within the Bush administration.

If anything, I'd say Chris lets Feith off a bit easy on several counts. But then, consider the source (i.e., me).

In any case, take a look.

In the category of articles you should not miss: Take a look at Wes Clark's new piece in The Washington Monthly on democracy, the Middle East and the how the Bush administration failed to understand how either works.

A tad tentative?

On CNN's new Chalabi story, the caption under Chalabi's picture reads: "Ahmed Chalabi is thought to have been a source of intelligence about Iraq's alleged WMD."

Like alleged Ba'athist Saddam Hussein.

A follow-up on this morning's post: Juan Cole says Chalabi has been suspended from the IGC. Maybe now he'll head north and found the Salo Republic -- that's a little Italian history shout-out. Another thought: why doesn't someone ask the Jordanians about the telephone intercept they shared with the Americans last fall showing that Chalabi had foreknowledge of the bombing of their embassy in Baghdad on August 7th.

Of course, the heart is a fickle, fickle thing. Here's the pre-Sharia-Chalabi (in the back on the left in the picture) as the guest of the First Lady at the 2004 State of the Union, a mere four months ago.

Talk about a not-so-fun meeting.

President Bush was up on the Hill this morning meeting with Congressional Republicans to quell their growing anxiety that their job security may be only marginally greater than that of the Iraq Interim Governing Council.

The tenor of the event can probably be judged by the fact that the 'rallying cry' coming out of the meeting seems to have been that things are really bad and almost certain to get worse.

Rah! Rah!

According to several participants, President Bush told Republicans that the Iraqis are ready to "take the training wheels off" by assuming power.

That's a bit of a condescending thing to say about a country which encompasses what is generally considered to be the cradle of civilization. But the thought that an extra set of training wheels may now be available prompts the question of whether the Iraqis might be willing to hand their pair off to the White House.

As it happens, I was up on the Hill myself this morning for an early meeting and managed to get caught in the security sweep that preceded the president's visit -- something complicated by the fact that I wasn't carrying a press credential on me.

After parting company with my host, I went to one exit and was told I couldn't leave that way. And then, amid a thickening crowd of capitol police and secret service, I went to another exit.

"Where are you trying to go?"

"I'm just trying to leave."

"Lemme see some ID?"

"Why are you here?"

Etc. etc. etc. ...

Eventually one of the security team said I had just been seen walking down the hall with a member of congress. That seemed to stand me in semi-good-stead. And after being escorted to the Senate side of the Capitol I was cut loose in true catch-n-release fashion, none the worse for wear.

I've had a slew of readers writing in and asking -- or insisting -- that the raid on the Baghdad home of Ahmed Chalabi and INC headquarters was, if not staged, then conducted with the intent of boosting Chalabi's popularity by appearing to place him at odds with the American occupiers. (The idea, you might say, would be to Sadr-ize him.) Indeed, one of those notes came from someone who I'd describe as loosely affiliated with the United States military establishment and quite knowledgable about Iraq and the Middle East at large.

So could this be true?

I have no direct knowledge. I just got back from a few meetings. And I've had no time to make any calls yet. But I'm very skeptical of this interpretation.

I don't doubt that some of Chalabi's Washington supporters have encouraged him to take a more oppositional stand toward the occupation authorities to bolster his own popularity. But there are many US government players in Iraq right now. And many of them really are hostile to Chalabi.

Something quite that orchestrated would, I suspect, be far too difficult to pull-off. And are we dealing here with smooth operators? Answers itself, doesn't it?

One other point: You only have to look next door to see what happens to American puppets after they have their fallings-out with the Americans. Clue: They don't get embraced by the other side. In fact, that guy from nextdoor was lucky to get out of the country in one piece.

Another theory -- or at least a portion of one -- is contained in an article appearing this morning in Salon by Andrew Cockburn. The article points to US government suspicions that Chalabi may be plotting against the soon to be announced caretaker government, chosen by American officials and UN representative Lakhdar Brahimi.

Cockburn notes Chalabi's continued efforts to ally himself with Shia sectarian groups in Iraq, particularly the new umbrella group he's created, variously translated as the Shiite Political Council or the Supreme Shia Council (I'm assuming these titles I've seen referred to are in fact the same group).

Cockburn mentions that Chalabi's new Shia sectarian faction includes members of Iraqi Hezbollah. And though he doesn't mention him by name, I believe he is referring in particular to a man named Karim Mahoud al-Mohammedawi, a key member of Iraqi Hezbollah.

Chalabi's dwindling number of Washington supporters have awkwardly claimed that his efforts to ally himself with Shia Islamist groups in Iraq is an evidence of their man's 'pragmatism', recognizing the political realities of the country and adjusting accordingly. This is an echo of their pre-invasion efforts to explain the copious funding Chalabi received from the government of Iran, which, in case you hadn't noticed, is not supposed to be a great friend of ours.

If you're looking for any entertainment, any silver lining to this mess, watch the faces of the hardest core Chalabistas and watch the less and less subtle ripples of chagrin on their faces as their man more and more publicly shows how much he played them for fools.