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Arrest Warrant Issued for Chalabi

Times Staff Writer

Iraq’s interim government announced arrest warrants Sunday for special tribunal head Salem Chalabi, on murder charges, and former Governing Council member Ahmad Chalabi, on counterfeiting charges.

Ahmad Chalabi, a longtime opposition leader, was a Pentagon favorite in the years leading up to the Iraq war but fell out of favor in the spring over allegations that his political faction gave flawed intelligence to U.S. agents and leaked American secrets to Iran.

Ahmad Chalabi and interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi also have frequently clashed over issues such as Allawi’s move to partially reverse the U.S.-sponsored “de-Baathification” process.

Salem Chalabi, Ahmad’s nephew, has been in charge of the effort to try ousted President Saddam Hussein on war crimes charges. “They should be arrested and then questioned, and then we will evaluate the evidence, and then if there is enough evidence, they will be sent to trial,” Zuhair Maliky, Iraq’s chief investigating judge, said Sunday.

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Spokesmen for the White House and the State Department said the charges were up to the Iraqis to deal with.

Supporters like Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz were not available for comment. Ahmad Chalabi had attended President Bush’s most recent State of the Union speech, sitting behind Laura Bush.

Both Chalabis denied the charges, which they said were politically inspired.

“I’m going to go back to confront those lies,” Ahmad Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress party, told CNN, speaking from Tehran. “There is no case here. I will go back to meet those charges head-on.... This judge should recuse himself because he went on many times in the American press attacking me personally on political grounds.”

Ahmad Chalabi also accused Maliky of trying to derail Hussein’s trial. “He attacked the court, he attacked the trial of Saddam Hussein in the press,” Chalabi said.

The warrant against Ahmad Chalabi reportedly accuses him of counterfeiting old Iraqi dinars. But Chalabi told CNN that the former Governing Council’s Finance Committee, which he had headed, had been trying to stop the circulation of fake currency and had been in possession of counterfeit bills.

“All this was done under the auspices of the Finance Committee to stop the forgeries and to put a stop to the theft,” he said. “Without a doubt, I’m being set up.... They think they can hurt me by doing this, politically.”

In an interview, Maliky denied that there were any political considerations or motivations behind the warrants, which were issued Saturday. “There should be no special rights for anyone,” he said.

Salem Chalabi described the accusation against his uncle as “very weird.”

Word of the investigation against Salem Chalabi in connection with the May slaying of Haitham Fadhil, a Finance Ministry official who was delving into the Chalabi family’s real estate holdings, was first reported by The Times last week. Iraq’s top criminal court has been looking into allegations that Salem Chalabi threatened Fadhil days before he was killed.

Fadhil, who was shot on May 28, had been preparing a report on reclaiming government-owned real estate. According to the source who spoke earlier with The Times, the document stated that members of the Chalabi family and the Iraqi National Congress had illegally seized hundreds of properties after the U.S.-led invasion last year. The property, the source said, included government offices, mansions and agricultural land.

Salem Chalabi, 41, denied involvement in the slaying and said the allegations were aimed at removing him as executive director of the Iraqi Special Tribunal, which will try top officials of Hussein’s government for crimes against humanity.

“The warrant for me has to do with the fact that apparently I threatened somebody. I have no recollection of ever meeting that person,” Salem Chalabi told CNN. “But apparently I threatened somebody who subsequently was killed. Reports are indicating that the day that I supposedly visited his office, which I deny ever having visited because I don’t even know the person in question, there are minutes of meetings that I was attending that day somewhere else, at the Governing Council. So it just seems to me a strange kind of occurrence that they would make something like this.”

In the months since the Bush administration turned against its one-time favorite, Ahmad Chalabi has tried to transform himself into an Iraqi populist.

That effort has included reaching out to anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr, whose supporters in recent days have clashed violently with Iraqi and U.S. forces in Najaf and other cities. Sadr draws his supporters mainly from poor and impoverished southerners.

Some analysts have predicted that Sadr and Ahmad Chalabi might form a loose alliance, with the former wielding influence from the pulpit and the latter entering electoral politics.

“If the Sadr movement abandons violence and makes an alliance with Ahmad Chalabi, he will gain something from that movement,” Ridha Taqi, director of political relations for a major Shiite party, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, said last month. “It’s not that Ahmad Chalabi is thinking of cooperating with the Sadr group -- he’s already working with them in an intense manner.”

With Sadr’s militia engaged in clashes with Iraqi and U.S.-led forces in cities across Iraq -- and a particularly bloody showdown still underway in Najaf -- the charges against Ahmad Chalabi may help remove a troublesome political threat to Allawi.

Allawi and Chalabi had also sparred over the interim prime minister’s effort to partially reverse the U.S.-sponsored firing of Baath Party members.

Allawi is a former Baathist who broke with Hussein decades ago and joined the exiled opposition. Former U.S. civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer III had assigned the job of de-Baathification to the now-disbanded 25-member Iraqi Governing Council, to which both Allawi and Ahmad Chalabi had belonged. On becoming prime minister, Allawi argued that the process had been overly harsh and moved to rehire some lower-level party members.

Ahmad Chalabi, in a July interview, criticized Allawi’s move.

“What about the people who are victims of the Baath? Nothing has been done for them,” he said. “What about the relatives of the mass-grave victims? How about the ones who have been dismissed from their jobs by Saddam?”

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Times staff writers Paul Richter in Washington and Edmund Sanders in Najaf contributed to this report.


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