Final results in the Iraqi elections, held March 7, won’t be announced until Friday at the earliest. And even then, the vote count is likely to be disputed by nearly everyone, with Prime Minister Maliki issuing veiled threats that he won’t relinquish the reins of power no matter the result. But with 95 percent of the vote counted, Maliki is locked in a dead heat with the Sunni-backed, nationalist bloc, the Iraqi Nationalist Movement, led by former Prime Minister Allawi, a secular Shiite. Both Maliki and Allawi are expected to win about 90 seats each in the 325-member parliament.
The best reporting on the Iraqi elections and their aftermath continues to come from Reidar Visser, a research fellow at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, whose invaluable blog provides regular updates on the politics of Iraq.
Today, however, I want to focus on the fortunes of the Great de-Baathification Machine, namely, Ahmed Chalabi and Ali al-Lami, whose provocative purge of more than 500 candidates — nearly all of whom were associated with anti-Iran and secular, nationalist movements — polarized Iraq in the weeks before the vote. (Those who’ve seen “The Green Zone,” the thriller starring Matt Damon, saw Chalabi’s role as an exile who lied about Iraq’s weapons program portrayed beautifully.)
Among other things, it appears as if the anti-Baath purge boosted Sunni turnout and turned more moderate Shiite voters away from, rather than toward, Chalabi, Lami, and the Shiite religious coalition that they created.
Lami, who was Chalabi’s ally and head of the Justice and Accountability Commission, got only about 900 votes in the election, according to Visser’s count, meaning that he likely won’t be elected to parliament. Chalabi, who ran as a stalwart — indeed, the organizer — of the Iranian-backed Iraqi National Alliance, the Shiite coalition of religious parties, will take a seat in the next parliament. As Visser reports, the INA — which included the former Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the Sadrists, and other Shiite parties — won 16 seats in Baghdad province, and among them Chalabi finished ninth.
As readers of this space know, I’ve been excoriating US neoconservatives who gleefully embraced Chalabi in the 1990s and who backed him in 2002-2003 during their headlong rush to war in Iraq. Since then, of course, Chalabi has come out of the closet as an agent of influence for Iran, and he worked closely with Iran’s leaders in 2009 to assemble the INA. In February, in response to my question, General Odierno virtually accused Chalabi of being an Iranian tool. Among the neocons closest to Chalabi was Michael Rubin of the neocon-infested American Enterprise Institute.
In that light, an interesting debate has erupted among neocons over the Chalabi factor.
Joshua Muravchik, a former AEI fellow who is now a fellow at the School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University, has written a mea culpa of the first order for World Affairs, in which he apologizes for having gotten into bed with Chalabi two decades ago:
“Confessing error is never easy, especially when under attack. … The particulars of our errors — whether it was the whole idea of invading Iraq or just aspects of its execution — will be sorted out for a long time, but one cardinal mistake was undoubtedly our infatuation with Ahmad Chalabi.”
In his piece, Muravchik provides a skewed but mostly accurate account of Chalabi’s post-2003 machinations, including the espionage charges involving Iran, his role in assembling the pro-Iran Shiite coalition, and so on, and he adds:
“In an effort to change the subject from his election shenanigans, Chalabi floats the idea of ‘a regional alliance among Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran that would be of benefit to the entire Middle East and a strong bastion against Islamic extremism.’
“Say what? I heard Iran’s reactionary Majlis speaker, Ali Larijani, make a roughly similar proposal at a forum in Dubai once. An alliance of this kind is designed to push the United States from the region and pave the way for Iranian and/or Islamist hegemony. Who knows about the espionage charges, but the games Chalabi is playing are a threat both to Iraq’s prospects for democracy, as well as to America’s interests in the region.”
If you read down to the comments following Muravchik’s article, you will find enthusaistic, pro-Chalabi comments from two other Chalabi partisans. Francis Brooke, who was Chalabi’s aide and publicist in Washington, calls Muravchik’s argument “silly,” and asks: “Why the drive-by attack?” And Max Singer, a fellow at the neocon-infested Hudson Institute, which he helped to found, wrote a long, meandering post defending Chalabi that deserves to be read in full for its magnificent self-delusion. He writes:
“While I do not know enough about current Iraqi politics to judge how much I agree with Chalabi’s recent positions, I am not ready to give up either the view that Chalabi was the right person to lead Iraq toward stability and democracy in 2003 or that Chalabi is a force for good in Iraq today.”
Personally, I don’t believe for a minute that Chalabi is, in fact, an “Iranian agent.” But he’s maintained close political ties to Tehran going back to the 1990s, and these ties were well known to the neoconservatives then, and now. He is a rank opportunist of the first order. In 2003, and subsequently, his fanatical anti-Baathist views coincided neatly with both the Supreme Leader of Iran and the supreme leader of the neocons, Richard Perle. They still do. The hardcore pro-Israeli far right and its neocon allies consider the Sunni Arab nationalist movement in all its forms, including its Baathist variant, as more inimical to Israel than Iran’s version of clerical rule, despite the emerging Iranian bid for hegemony in the region. Politics, indeed, does make strange bedfellows.
That Singer, a visceral supporter of the Likud regime in Israel, would continue to embrace Chalabi is a sign that many neocons still believe that Chalabi is their guy, despite his close ties to Iran and his outright advocacy for Iran’s influence in Iraq.