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U.S. Funds Swindler to Oust Saddam

  • Why did Congress grant a fugitive felon $97 million to orchestrate the overthrow of the Iraqi leadership?
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By Martin Mann

When Congress decided to intervene on its own in Iraq's internal affairs, it entrusted $97 million in American taxpayers' money and the controversial task of ousting Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to Ahmed Chalabi. Chalabi, however, is a convicted criminal, fugitive embezzler, and discredited international swindler.

[See The SPOTLIGHT's March 5 issue for details on Chalabi's criminal history. -- Ed.]

The 1999 Iraq Liberation Act passed by U.S. lawmakers recognized Chalabi as president of the executive council of the Iraqi National Council (INC), the umbrella organization of squabbling opposition factions Congress apparently expected to arrange Saddam's assassination or violent overthrow.

To accomplish that assignment, Chalabi and his INC received a congressional grant of nearly $100 million and the promise of "military assistance and armaments" from the Pentagon and the CIA.

How could America's legislature entrust such a controversial, covert task to a sleazy fugitive criminal like Chalabi?

By most available signs, they were thoroughly conned by Israeli lobbyists, who depicted Chalabi, 49, an Iraqi-born Shiite who is a graduate of the University of Chicago, as a "well-regarded businessman," an "eminent Middle Eastern banker" and as a "respected leader of the Iraqi opposition."

In reality, documents obtained by The SPOTLIGHT show that in l988 Chalabi took over as chairman of Petra Bank, a major Jordanian financial institution. But by mid-1989 Jordanian authorities found that Chalabi was looting his own bank.

The Iraqi financier was indicted in Jordan on charges of embezzlement, theft, misuse of bank depositors' funds and illegal insider speculation. Rather than face the charges, Chalabi fled, ending up in London. But in 1991 a Jordanian court convicted him of 31 specific financial felonies and sentenced him to 30 years in prison, as well as a large fine.

Well-informed Washington sources say that two campaign advisers of President George W. Bush -- Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle -- were especially active in promoting the idea of letting Chalabi and his INC overthrow Saddam by force or other criminal means.

Wolfowitz has been recently appointed deputy secretary of defense, an influential post he uses to advocate violent covert action against Iraq.

"Of course, if you consider it properly, the entire concept of financing an organization of crooks, cutthroats and terrorists like Chalabi's INC to assassinate a foreign head of state is a criminal enterprise," said a congressional staffer, who asked not to be quoted by name. "Perhaps Perle and Wolfowitz felt that a fugitive felon like Chalabi was best suited for the job. But they certainly deceived Congress about this."

For U.S. legislators, involvement in this sordid enterprise, involving a de facto alliance with a criminal gang, is an indelible stain on their record as the protectors of the principles of law and order among nations.