Rumors of Chalabi’s Imminent Arrest
So the hottest rumor that’s been going around Baghdad these past two months have been news that the Americans are going to arrest Ahmad Chalabi, any minute now.
When my mother repeated this rumor to me a few days, I knew that it had peaked.
But I heard two variations on the rumor yesterday from two different sources:
Source no. 1: The arrest will be timed right ahead of the U.S. presidential elections, so as to tie Chalabi’s name to McCain’s.
Source no. 2: The rumor is correct; the CIA are indeed pushing to arrest Chalabi, who is going to put together a news conference exposing their efforts either today or in the next few days.
The first time I heard this rumor was back in mid-August, even before the arrest of Chalabi’s aide, Ali Faisal al-Lami.
One of the weirdest spins on this rumor involved the Russian intelligence agency. Ostensibly, al-Lami got some training in Moscow.
Chalabi refused to comment on any of this in an e-mail correspondence.
In its current form, the rumors either describe the evidence against Chalabi as being sourced to wire-taps, or to al-Lami's alleged confessions.
The Chalabi-McCain link is tenuous and it supposedly runs through Randy Scheunemann, one of McCain’s foreign policy advisors. I can’t say that I’ve ever been close to Scheunemann but this is what I recollect from his past relationship with the Iraqi National Congress: back when he was an aide to Senator Trent Lott, Scheunemann was one of the unsung heroes of the Iraq Liberation Act (signed into law by Pres. Clinton in October 1998) along with Dani Pletka and Steve Rademacher. When Scheunemann left his job at the U.S. Capitol, he needed cheap office space, and the INC was in the process of moving out of its own crappy offices on the wrong side of Eastern Market into more respectable digs (still on the wrong side, but with sturdier floors), so Scheunemann took over the lease.
Beyond that, and as Scheunemann started his lobbying firm, there was very little contact. Scheunemann needed money, and we had none. Plus, we were doing pretty well without the help of any lobbyists. The unpublished secret is that the relationship soured further when Scheunemann wouldn’t help the INC as the Bush administration began to turn against it.
At the time when McCain was being helpful to the INC, it had very little to do with Scheunemann. The access persons to Senator McCain were Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT) and former Senator Bob Kerrey (D-NE).
Not much of scandal. Certainly not McCain’s “Rezko”—if we’re going “shady Arab” for “shady Arab” in the public eye.
And one needs to wonder how much of the Chalabi myth still lingers outside the circles of the chattering elite? After all, how many books did Aram Roston sell?
CNN landed a big Iraq-related scoop yesterday: they managed to interview the infamous “Curveball," the defector who was blamed (video link) for much of the erroneous WMD allegations in the lead-up to the war with Saddam. It is a good and fair report, although some of the things Rafid al-Janabi (a.k.a. “Curveball”) was saying on camera are not accurately translated from Arabic into English, making him sound slightly more boorish. However, there was a major omission from the well-rounded report: an exploration of Curveball’s links to the Iraqi National Congress and Chalabi. This widely-accepted media meme turned out to be a complete fabrication; there is nothing to tie Curveball to Chalabi from what I’ve investigated. This was CNN’s chance to prove me wrong, but they wouldn’t take it. Why is that?
Bob Drogin, the Los Angeles Times reporter to whom the Curveball story was first leaked and who went on to write a book about it, is interviewed in the CNN report. Drogin was fed the Curveball-Chalabi link (in excruciating detail, check out his interview in Salon.com) by his sources in the CIA. But it all turned out to be bunk. Was Drogin held accountable? No. Were any of the tens of reporters and hundreds of bloggers who parroted these claims ever called out on this stuff? No. Nobody issued a retraction, and nobody acknowledged that they’d been suckered by the CIA. Yet another bright, shiny moment in the history of the media’s Iraq War coverage.