The political scene in Iraq has been roiled over the past several weeks by the controversial decision by Iraq's Accountability and Justice Commission to ban some 500 political candidates from competing in the March elections because of past ties to the Ba'athist Party. Sunnis have expressed fears that next month's elections will leave them further disenfranchised, and many suspect Iran of a central role in the banning.
Today, Eli Lake reports that Gen. Raymond Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, has "accused Ali Faisal al-Lami, the executive director of the Accountability and Justice Commission along with Ahmad Chalabi, the panel's chairman, of being 'clearly influenced by Iran.'"
Gen. Odierno said both men, according to intelligence reports, were in close contact with Abu-Mahdi al-Muhandis, the top Iraqi adviser to Iran's Quds Force commander. The Quds Force comprises Iran's unconventional military units, which have orchestrated anti-U.S. paramilitary and political operations in Iraq. [...]
Francis Brooke, the Washington adviser to Mr. al-Lami's patron, Mr. Chalabi, said Gen. Odierno showed a "profound lack of understanding of Iraqi politics."
Mr. Brooke added, "Every senior Iraqi politician, particularly the Kurdish and Shi'ite parties, has diplomatic relations with Iran and concerning Ali Faisal al-Lami, Gen. Odierno acknowledges that he had no evidence to demonstrate this charge. The Iraqi National Congress and the Iraqi parliament has complete confidence in Ali Faisal al-Lami's management of the Accountability and Justice Commission."
Yes, it's true: Iran has a lot of influence in Iraq. This has been the case for a long time, but the people who got us into Iraq seem to have been the last to learn it. And while Gen. Odierno's assertion of Chalabi's Iran connections is noteworthy for its bluntness, it's certainly not news that Ahmad Chalabi himself has close ties to Iran.
It's important to remember here what a darling Chalabi used to be of the neoconservatives, and what a central role Chalabi played in providing false intelligence that fed the neoconservatives' case for the invasion of Iraq, even after the CIA had determined Chalabi to be untrustworthy. Neocon operatives like Brooke and Randy Scheunemann (who's now serving as Sarah Palin's foreign policy adviser) squired him from office to office on Capitol Hill as he told and retold his lies about nonexistent Iraqi WMDs and Saddam's nonexistent alliance with Al Qaeda.
Even after the invasion, after it became clear that there were no WMD and no Saddam-Al Qaeda alliance, and that, despite his claims of a massive following, Chalabi had no genuine political base in Iraq, neocons -- including Michael Rubin and Eli Lake himself -- continued to promote him as Iraq's savior. That became a lot harder after Chalabi's party -- which ran on the slogan "We Liberated Iraq!" -- received a pathetic 0.36 percent of the vote in Iraq's December 2005 elections, not even enough to secure a single seat for Chalabi himself.
Eventually, Chalabi was disavowed by the Bush administration, judged to be an "agent of influence" of Iran, suspected of having tipped off the Iranians that the U.S. had broken secret Iranian codes, as well as passing Iraqi government documents to Iranian agents. The Defense Intelligence Agency concluded -- in 2004 -- that "Iranian intelligence has been manipulating the United States through Chalabi." Needless to say, none of this speaks very well of the judgment of Chalabi's neoconservative fans.
Now consider the recent neoconservative attacks on Trita Parsi of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) and Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett of the New America Foundation for their advocacy of U.S.-Iran engagement. Back in November, Lake published a piece that suggested, on the flimsiest of evidence, that Parsi was an agent of the Iranian regime. The piece was hailed as a blockbuster in neoconservative circles, in some cases by the very people who had boosted Ahmad Chalabi. (Here is NIAC's response.)
Earlier this month, Lee Smith, a fellow at the neoconservative Hudson Institute (and author of a new book whose deeply insightful and original thesis is that the Arab only understands force), published a piece accusing the Leveretts of being lobbyists for the Iranian regime. (Here is the Leverett's response.)
Read the rest at the Wonk Room.