There is a role

April 20, 2003 1:47 p.m.

“There is a role for the Islamic religious parties, including Shia religious parties,” said Ahmed Chalabi this morning on ABC, “because they have some constituencies. But they are not going to be forcing any agenda or any theocracy on the Iraqi people.”

Some constituencies

I don’t how large the Shi’a parties’ constituencies are. The answer likely turns largely on definitions. Are we talking about Shi’a parties based largely on group identification or those committed to the imposition of a theocratic state?

Whatever the answer to that question, what’s clear is that they have some constituency in the country and that Ahmed Chalabi has no constituency in the country — so long as you exclude the several hundred who flew into the country a couple weeks ago. And yet he’s the one we’re hearing from.

To the extent that he gains a constituency it will likely be by leveraging his connections to American capital and political players. (The fairly consistent report from journalists on the ground is generalized Iraqi resistance to leadership by exiles who’ve spent most of their lives outside of the country — a phrase that is quickly becoming a code-word for Ahmed Chalabi.)

Ironically, this is a replay of the last dozen years. Through the 1990s, Chalabi had very little support in the Iraqi exile community — let alone in Iraq. The key exile groups maintained their membership in Chalabi’s group, the Iraqi National Congress, largely because he was a conduit for money and access to the US government. The INC billed itself as the umbrella group representing the breadth of the opposition, when in fact it had become little more than a shell. The other groups, nominally joined under the INC umbrella, began meeting in separate ad-hoc arrangements for precisely the purpose of sidelining Chalabi.

Chalabi advocates claim this was the work of the State Department, trying to undermine Chalabi. And there’s some truth to this. But to the degree it was true it was largely because they believed he was an obstacle to getting the rest of the groups together to actually do something beside lobby Washington (we’ll discuss later why State and the CIA don’t like Chalabi).

Now the US media (and perhaps various players in government circles) seem to be falling into the old trap — giving disproportionate weight to Chalabi because he speaks good English (and talks — more broadly — the language of the West) and has a thick 202 area code rolodex.

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