Weeks late to the story, the Los Angeles Times offers up a profile of the resurgent Ahmad Chalabi, a "onetime darling" of the neocon set who was richly rewarded for providing dubious intel that contributed mightily to the run-up to war in Iraq. The article is a largely fawning piece, framed as a political comeback story. Naturally, its deficiencies lie in the stupendous lack of a critical eye for the factors that made a Chalabi comeback necessary in the first place.
As noted by the Times, Chalabi's return to "prominence and power" has been facilitated by Iraq Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, who "appointed him to a pivotal position last month overseeing the restoration of vital services to Baghdad residents such as electricity, potable water, health care and education." The Times paints all this as if Chalabi was some sort of folk hero:
In part, Chalabi's reemergence has come about through his willingness to step into a void that desperately needed to be filled. After more than four years of war, many Iraqis get just a few hours of electricity a day. Water isn't clean. Trash is piled along streets. Healthcare and education have languished.
In no small part, this is because insurgents regularly threaten and kill municipal workers, bureaucrats and government employees, whom they view as U.S. collaborators. Residents in outlying areas say they can't get the government to come help them because it is too dangerous.
But Chalabi is better known in the region as a grifter. As the London Guardian reported back in 2003: "But allegations of financial impropriety linger over Mr Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress, the most important of which concern a $200m (£127m) banking scandal in Jordan. In 1992, Mr Chalabi was tried in his absence and sentenced by a Jordanian court to 22 years' jail on 31 charges of embezzlement, theft, misuse of depositor funds and currency speculation." Is this the sort of person you'd want managing the restoration of Iraq's vital infrastructure? The Times offers thin mention of this, saying only that "The State Department viewed him warily, in part because of a 1992 Jordanian conviction in absentia for bank fraud, stemming from the failure of a bank he founded, Petra Bank of Jordan."
The Times takes pains to document the "rapprochement" that has taken place between Chalabi and the administration, but makes know mention of the comical way President Bush, at Chalabi's lowest point of political favor, denied even knowing Chalabi: "My meetings with him were very brief. I mean, I think I met with him at the State of the Union and just kind of working through the rope line, and he might have come with a group of leaders. But I haven't had any extensive conversations with him," Bush said of a man who nevertheless obtained a seat of honor at his 2004 State of the Union address.
Most gallingly, however, is the way the Times entirely glosses over the incident which caused Chalabi's diminishment in the first place--his disclosure "to an Iranian official that the United States had broken the secret communications code of Iran's intelligence service, betraying one of Washington's most valuable sources of information about Iran, according to United States intelligence officials." The Times makes one, thin mention of the incident ("The Pentagon, which had provided millions of dollars to Chalabi's group, the Iraqi National Congress, cut off funding and accused him of passing sensitive U.S. secrets to Iran,") as if the mounting tensions between the United States and Iran weren't actually happening.
If anything, Chalabi's return to prominence should touch off alarms. That a confidence man like Chalabi -- who the White House has already farcically attempted to distance themselves from -- will be in charge of restoring Iraq's basic infrastructure indicates that the real story here is the continued, spiraling dysfunction within Iraq's central government. There's no wonder that Chalabi has always found a friend in Christopher Hitchens -- his restoration to power is clear enough evidence that there is no God.