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Context of 'April 9, 2001: Washington Post Columnist Lauds Chalabi, Advocates Regime Change in Iraq'

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Mohammed Said Nabulsi, Jordan’s central bank governor, orders the country’s banks to deposit 30 percent of their foreign exchange holdings with the central bank. The measure is part of an effort to enforce regulations on liquidity ratios and reduce the outflow of foreign exchange from Jordan. Petra, run by Ahmed Chalabi, is the only bank among the 20 that is unable to comply with the order. At the urging of Nabulsi, King Hussein puts Petra under government supervision and orders an audit of the bank’s books. Petra’s board of directors are replaced and an investigation begins. Two weeks later, in August 1989, Chalabi flees the country—reportedly with $70 million. According to Hudson Institute’s Max Singer, Prince Hassan personally drives Chalabi to the Jordanian border, helping him escape. The investigation subsequently uncovers evidence of massive fraud. “The scale of fraud at Petra Bank was enormous,” Nabulsi will later recall. “It was like a tiny Enron.” Arthur Andersen determines that the bank’s assets are overstated by $200 million. The bank is found to have enormous bad debts (about $80 million); “unsupported foreign currency balances at counter-party banks” (about $20 million); and money purportedly owed to the bank which could not be found (about $60 million). Millions of dollars of depositors’ money had been routed to the Chalabi family empire in Switzerland, Lebanon, and London, in the form of loans that had not been repaid. The Chalabi family’s Swiss and Lebanese firms, Mebco and Socofi, are later put into liquidation. As a result of the fraud, the Jordanian government is forced to pay $200 million to depositors whose money had disappeared, and to avert a potential collapse of the country’s entire banking system. [American Prospect, 11/18/2002; Guardian, 4/14/2003; Salon, 5/4/2004; CounterPunch, 5/20/2004; New Yorker, 6/7/2004; Christian Science Monitor, 6/15/2004] Chalabi later provides a different account of what happened. According to Zaab Sethna, a spokesman for the Iraqi National Congress, King Hussein of Jordan turned on Chalabi in coordination with Iraq because Chalabi was “using the bank to fund [Iraqi] opposition groups and learning a lot about illegal arms transfers to Saddam.” Petra Bank was also providing the CIA with information on the Jordanian-Iraqi trade. [American Prospect, 11/18/2002; New Yorker, 6/7/2004]

Entity Tags: Mohammed Said Nabulsi, Hussein bin Talal, Petra Bank, Arthur Andersen, Middle East Banking Corp., Ahmed Chalabi

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Iraqi National Congress logo.Iraqi National Congress logo. [Source: Iraqi National Congress]Over a period of four years, the CIA’s Iraq Operation Group provides the Iraqi National Congress (INC) with $100 million, which the organization uses to set up training camps and propaganda operations in Northern Iraq. [Christian Science Monitor, 6/15/2004; Ritter, 2005, pp. 128] During this time span, INC leader Ahmed Chalabi allegedly misuses a lot of the funds. “There was a lot of hanky-panky with the accounting: triple billing, things that weren’t mentioned, things inflated.… It was a nightmare,” a US intelligence official who works with Chalabi will say in 2004. [Newsweek, 4/5/2004] Chalabi refuses to share the organization’s books with other members of the INC, and even with the US government itself. According to a former CIA officer, “[T]hey argued that it would breach the secrecy of the operation.” One night, government investigators break into the INC’s offices to do an audit. They find that although the books are in order, many of the group’s expenditures are wasteful. [New Yorker, 6/7/2004] Chalabi spends much of his time in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq. Robert Baer, a CIA officer who is also working in Iraq, later recalls: “He was like the American Ambassador to Iraq. He could get to the White House and the CIA. He would move around Iraq with five or six Land Cruisers.” Hundreds of thousands of dollars flow “to this shadowy operator—in cars, salaries—and it was just a Potemkin village. He was reporting no intel; it was total trash. The INC’s intelligence was so bad, we weren’t even sending it in.” Chalabi tries to portray Saddam Hussein’s regime as “a leaking warehouse of gas, and all we had to do was light a match,” Baer says. Chalabi, at certain points, claims to know about Iraqi troop movements and palace plans. But “there was no detail, no sourcing—you couldn’t see it on a satellite.” [New Yorker, 6/7/2004] In her 2007 book Fair Game, former CIA analyst Valerie Plame Wilson, an expert on Iraq’s WMD programs, describes Chalabi as “Machiavellian,” and blames him for sending “dozens of tantalizing but ultimately false leads into the CIA net.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 106-107]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Ahmed Chalabi, Central Intelligence Agency, Robert Baer, Iraqi National Congress

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

After founding the Iraqi National Congress (INC), Ahmed Chalabi approaches the CIA for help in overthrowing Saddam Hussein. The agency, hoping Chalabi can provide useful intelligence, gives the organization millions of dollars to set up a “forgery shop” inside an abandoned schoolhouse in the Kurdish town of Salahuddin. The INC promptly sets about creating phony mockups of Iraqi newspapers filled with stories of Hussein’s abuses. “It was something like a spy novel,” CIA agent Robert Baer will later recall. “It was a room where people were scanning Iraqi intelligence documents into computers, and doing disinformation. There was a whole wing of it that he did forgeries in.… He was forging back then, in order to bring down Saddam.” Carla Bonini, an Italian reporter, will later recall: “When I visited [Chalabi] in London, he told me, ‘You can have anything you want.’ It was like a shopping mall for intelligence.” Bonini quickly learns that Chalabi’s information, although often sensational, is virtually useless. None of it can be independently confirmed, and most of it turns out to be fabrications. One of the documents fabricated by the INC is a copy of a purported letter to Chalabi from President Clinton’s National Security Council. The letter requests Chalabi’s help in a plot to assassinate Saddam Hussein. Baer believes Chalabi’s intent is to trick the Iranians into believing that the Americans will kill Hussein, thus inspiring them into joining a plot against the dictator. According to Francis Brooke, a Rendon Group employee working with the INC, Chalabi did not create the forged letter. “That would be illegal,” he says. [New Yorker, 6/7/2004; Unger, 2007, pp. 125]

Entity Tags: Iraqi National Congress, Francis Brooke, Robert Baer, Ahmed Chalabi, Carla Bonini, Rendon Group

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

The CIA—concerned about Chalabi’s contacts with Iran and convinced that he is not capable of delivering on his promises—severs its ties with him and the Iraqi National Congress. [ABC, 2/7/1998; New Yorker, 6/7/2004; Christian Science Monitor, 6/15/2004] Former CIA base chief Robert Baer recalls in 2006 that “[t]he quality” of the INC’s intelligence “was very bad. There was a feeling that Chalabi was prepping defectors. We had no systematic way to vet the information, but it was obvious most of it was cooked.” [Mother Jones, 4/2006]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Ahmed Chalabi, Iraqi National Congress

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

An orchestrated push in the media begins to make the case for the need to invade Iraq. The San Diego Union-Tribune reprints a Weekly Standard article by William Kristol and Robert Kagan that tells readers (after comparing President Bush favorably to Ronald Reagan, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Harry Truman, and lauding Bush’s “steely determination”) that US military action “could well be necessary to bring Saddam down.” They write: “At some point, Bush could well find himself confronted by an Iraq armed with weapons of mass destruction. During these past few years, it was relatively easy for congressional Republicans to call for arming and funding the Iraqi opposition. That remains a good idea. But the more sober of Bush’s advisers, like Robert Zoellick and Paul Wolfowitz (see February 18, 1992 and February 27, 2001), have recognized that this alone will not do the trick. Some use of American military force, both from the air and on the ground, could well be necessary to bring Saddam down, no matter how wonderfully the Iraqi opposition performs. Whether he chooses it or not, Bush may quickly be faced with the same decision his father had to make in 1990. He has in his cabinet at least one person who counseled inaction the last time [referring to Secretary of State Colin Powell]. If the crisis comes, Bush, like his father, will not be able to rely only on the judgment of the men and women around him: He will have to act from his own instincts and his own courage.” [Weekly Standard, 1/22/2001; Unger, 2007, pp. 206] In the coming weeks, an onslaught of print and television op-eds and commentaries, some from Bush administration officials, will advocate the overthrow of Hussein (see February 27, 2001, February 16, 2001, April 9, 2001, and July 30, 2001).

Entity Tags: Robert Kagan, William Kristol

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence

In a column exploring the idea of US-led regime change in Iraq and advocating the support of Iraqi opposition groups to overthrow Saddam Hussein, Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland calls Iraqi opposition leader Ahmed Chalabi (see 1992-1996) “a dedicated advocate of democracy” in Iraq. (Hoagland lauds Chalabi’s advanced college degrees, his success as a Jordanian banker (see August 2, 1989), and what he calls Chalabi’s exposure of the CIA’s “gross failures” in Iraq (see (1994)). Hoagland decries “15 years of failed US policy toward Saddam,” and writes that Chalabi is a fine choice to lead Iraq in the place of Hussein. “Mr. Chalabi is a dedicated advocate of democracy who does fight against enormous military odds and deep religious and social divisions in the Arab world,” he writes. Lambasting those in the CIA and State Department who are determined to prove that Chalabi is a fraud (see January 1996), Hoagland writes, “A policy review dedicated to trashing him and other exiles is a shameful and self-defeating way to begin anew on Iraq. It is a phony way to argue that nothing can or should be done to oust the predatory psychopath who holds Iraq hostage.” [Washington Post, 4/9/2001; Unger, 2007, pp. 206]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Ahmed Chalabi, Washington Post, Saddam Hussein, Jim Hoagland

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

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