Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Al-Sha'alan Rides Again

One of the most unsavory characters to emerge in post-Saddam Iraq was a fellow called Hazim Al-Sha’alan, who served as Minister of Defense under Ayad Allawi. Al-Sha’alan first entered Iraq in April 2003 in the company of Abdel-Majid Al-Khoei as part of a CIA operation to contact and mollify the religious leadership of Najaf, but it ended badly when Al-Khoei was knifed to death. Al-Sha’alan was then hired by the Iraqi Reconstruction and Development Council (scroll down to the bottom of this post for background info) and arrived in Baghdad in May, according to a source who had worked with him.

Earlier in his career, he had been associated with the Iraqi National Congress, where apparently he was spying for Saddam’s intelligence service on the comings and goings of Ahmad Chalabi [the previous link takes you to captured mukhaberat documents that were published on the INC’s website, they are genuine.] Chalabi had hoped to prop-up Hazim Al-Sha’alan as a counterweight to his cousin Hussein Al-Sha’alan (who was and continues to be close to Allawi, running on the latter’s slate for Diwaniyya Province) for the position of head sheikh of the Khaza’il tribe.

While Al-Sha’alan was minister, several hundred million dollars went ‘missing,’ and there is a plethora of evidence suggesting that it ended-up lining the pockets of Al-Sha’alan and his cronies, as well as the pockets of higher-ups. There was an audit report that was leaked back in August, and this is what I wrote about the subject then. At the time, Al-Sha’alan was supposed to be the scapegoat for this far reaching web of graft but there is ‘talk’ of evidence suggesting the involvement of persons like former President and current Vice-President Ghazi Al-Yawer, former Deputy Prime Minister and current Minister of Planning Barham Salih and of course, former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. The evidence allegedly includes audio recordings.

Al-Sha'alan...Pick-Pocket Poster Boy

Granted, a big proportion of this whisper campaign emanates from rival political camps that would like, more than anything, to besmirch the reputations of Al-Sha’alan, Al-Yawer, Salih and Allawi. Today, Ahmad Chalabi held a press conference in the Hunting Club whereby—with the help of a power-point presentation and original documents—he explained to the assembled press corps the ins and outs of how corruption was managed (or mismanaged since the word got out on what’s been going on…) at the Defense Ministry during Allawi’s era.

Chalabi put the numbers in perspective: he said that the ‘misplaced monies’ would have built 110,000 housing units or 11,000 schools or 500 hospitals or subsidized the importation of a year’s supply of wheat and barley to cover Iraq’s needs.

There is even word (again, from sources that harbor animosity towards the gentlemen mentioned) of the existence of a document—signed by Allawi, Salih, then Minister of Finance Adel Abdel-Mahdi and Governor of the Central Bank Sinan Shabibi—that enables the government to spend almost 2 billion USD “outside the budget.” This document was signed in the autumn of 2004. Hmmm, two billion buckos to be spent without oversight…Nah, doesn’t seem inappropriate at all, right?

But Al-Sha’alan, who has an arrest warrant out on him and has been hiding out in Jordan and London for months, is about to return to Baghdad since the Iraqi National Assembly failed to remove his parliamentary immunity at a session held for this purpose a little over a week ago. Al-Sha’alan wrote an Op-Ed in Asharq Al-Awsat on Dec. 1 in which he thanked “all those who stood with me.” In this piece, Al-Sha’alan sings the praises of Allawi, and insinuates that the former Prime Minister was in on the fix. [To understand why Al-Sha’alan was given this space to opine in the Saudi-owned daily, one should read his previous Op-Ed that was a sycophantic ode to the Saudi royals.]

And the reason why I think Al-Sha’alan would be arriving in Baghdad soon is because he was received today in Arbil by the President of the Kurdish Region and head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), Masoud Barzani. Which shouldn’t surprise anyone: KDP officials are heavily implicated in the accusations of corruption swirling around Al-Sha’alan. One of the principal characters whose name appeared recurrently in the documents Chalabi showcased today is Abdel-Hamid Sa’id Mirza, who is currently AWOL due to an arrest warrant. Mirza was the office manager of Bruska Nouri Shawees, No. 2 man at the Defense Ministry under Al-Sha’alan and continues to serve in this capacity. He is also the brother of the current First Deputy Prime Minister, Rosh Nouri Shawees. Both brothers are top KDP officials. Also implicated is the serving Chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. Babekir Zebari (also KDP) who is allegedly the business partner of Misha’an Al-Jabouri.

Al-Sha'alan maintains that all these allegations against him have been orchestrated by the Iranians and their Iraqi agents (among whom he includes Chalabi) who were perturbed by belligerent statements he had made against Tehran's mullahs while in office.

Al-Sha’alan is running in the upcoming elections under slate number ‘511.’ He became a member of the National Assembly after running on the ‘Iraqiyoun’ slate that was headed in the January elections by Ghazi Al-Yawer and Hajim Al-Hassani (this slate won five seats at the time, Al-Sha’alan was the fifth candidate. Al-Yawer and Al-Hassani are currently running on Allawi’s slate). However, mysterious posters have recently appeared in Baghdad’s thoroughfares with Al-Sha’alan’s picture beseeching Iraqis to vote for the ‘Haramiyoun’ list—the ‘Thieves’ list.

On a lighter note, an Iraqi website has published an open letter from Major Hamid Jaber Al-Wasiti, who lives in Canberra, Australia, where he disappoints the Iraqi nation by turning down an offer to become the next Minister of Defense. Al-Wasiti claims that the offer was made by Allawi’s people. This guy is either totally nuts, or he’s run out of ideas for picking-up chicks…


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