BAGHDAD — By now, many of you know about the raid today on Ahmed Chalabi’s house and two offices of the INC in Baghdad at about 9:30 a.m. local time. Some evidence and weapons were confiscated, senior Coalition officials said, and “several” people were arrested. There was no resistance, officials said, but footage after the raid showed that the place had been trashed.
The official line is that this was an Iraqi police procedure, with search and arrest warrants handed down by an Iraqi judge after CPA head Paul Bremer referred an allegation 10 months ago to the Central Criminal Court of Iraq. The charges include fraud, kidnapping and “associated matters.” (No expansion on that.)
[UPDATE 12:12 AM, LOCAL BAGHDAD TIME: Now we have some expansion. According to the investigating judge, Hussain Al-Moathin, who is on the Iraqi Central Criminal Court, said:
There have been some crimes and incidents that have been acted by Iraqi personnel, and those incidents took place against Iraqis. A small group of people were detained by these criminals and tortured. And also, there have been a number of incidents of kidnapping and also killing someone because — for personal purposes. And in addition to that, they have also captured — or they have just took over some of the government facilities. And those people have been — there was a warrant of capturing and seizing those people, but unfortunately, it was not possible to capture them. They are now — away from the law — they are outlaws.
[Then he names people:
- Abdullah Araji
- Azid Samir Aziz
- Amar Mohammed Raib
- Vafir Mohammed Raib
- Aras Habib — possibly Aras Habib Karim, a colonel in the FIF and close associated of Chalabi. He may have been the man in charge of the INC’s quest to hunt down former high-level Ba’athists in Iraq
- Dezi Mavi
- Hassan Mahad
- Dr. Hamam
Senior Coalition officials mentioned that several people listed in the arrest warrants involving the INC offices were not arrested because they were not there; the above list is apparently those people. Judge Al-Moathin took no questions.]
People on the scene of the raid report U.S. tanks being used to back up the Iraqi cops. Senior Coalition officials, in a background briefing, said they had no knowledge of this and referred all questions to the investigating officers of the Iraqi Police force. At today’s 6 p.m. briefing chief CPA spokesman Dan Senor resolutely refused to address any details about the raid, also referring reporters to the Iraqi police force and the investigative judge.
Chalabi, predictably, was pretty pissed off. “When America treats its friends this way then they are in big trouble,” Chalabi said on CNN. “My relationship with the Coalition Provisional Authority now is non-existent.”
“Let my people go,” he — incredibly, and tastelessly — said at his press conference. “Let my people be free.”
Chalabi sure hasn’t lost his talent for making offensive comments.
It’s unclear exactly what’s going on and during today’s briefings, a lot of speculation centered around the oil-for-food investigation. Senor, however, said there was no connection between that investigation and the raid on Chalabi’s house. This idea seems to come from a statement from Chalabi at his press conference earlier today, where he also said a former Ba’athist official carried out the “unwarranted” raid. (Technically not true, there were numerous warrants.)
So if there was ever any doubt that Chalabi was now persona non grata with the Americans, today should dispel any confusion. First there was the bogus WMD information he peddled to the United States. Then it was his disastrous idea to Bremer to disband the Iraqi Army. Next, it was his seizure of tens of thousands of records from Saddam’s era. He’s involved in dozens of dirty little contracts and a corrupt oil-for-food investigation — Chalabi hand-picked the auditors! — may finally have caused the United States to cut the strings of its puppet/puppet-master.
So this is the end of a beautiful friendship, but is it the end of Chalabi? He’s a survivor, that’s for sure. What this means for the June 30 handover is, unfortunately, also unclear.
This is all very frustrating, because S. is mother-henning me practically to death, and I’m not able to talk to any Iraqis. Everything is “too dangerous,” he says. I couldn’t even go grocery shopping today. He’s probably right, but I’m chafing under the restrictions. I know I’ve only been here a day, total, but I’m anxious to get out there and talk to people. As it is, all I can tell you is that S. and his nephew A. are both happy about the raid on Chalabi’s offices and home.
“He’s a big crook,” A. said tonight over a dinner of rice, bread and meat. S. nodded in agreement. “A thief!” he added. A. is pretty apolitical, but he’s an excellent driver and he likes to play R&B and hip-hop from artists such as Blue and 50-Cent as he screams down the Baghdad back alleys at night in a 1991 BMW.
This is not surprising — A.’s opinion of Chalabi, not his musical tastes — and I’d guess it is the opinion of a majority of Iraqis. Chalabi pulls maybe 2% approval rating in the country, and he must know he would be badly beaten in any election. Of course, if, like Saddam Hussein, he surrounds himself with “yes” men (na’am men here) he might be blind to his real unpopularity. Both S. and A. mentioned his fraud conviction in Jordan and neither seemed surprised by this recent turn of events. Leopards, spots, etc.
In other news, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt stuck to the story that the attack in the desert yesterday, about 25 km from the Syrian border, was no wedding party, contradicting what many news organizations have reported and many Iraqis have claimed. When pressed to explain the number of women and children among the casualties — as shown on APTV, hardly an Al Jazeera clone — he said the images on the television and what American troops found on the ground were “inconsistent.”
Specifically, Kimmitt says the attack was in the middle of the desert took place along a known “rat-line” that serves as a route for foreign fighters and smugglers coming into Iraq. U.S. troops recovered shotguns, pistols, AK-47, sniper rifles, RPG launchers and other weaponry along with about $1,000 in mixed Iraqi dinars, he said. When it was pointed out that the sum of money and cache of guns didn’t seem that unusual — for Iraq — Kimmitt basically shrugged.
“This operation was not something that fell out of the sky,” he said. “We had significant intelligence which caused us to conduct a military operation in the middle of the desert. … We are satisfied at this point that the intelligence that led us there was validated by what we found on the ground. There was not a wedding party going on.”
Most reporters in the room seemed to have sources different from Kimmitt’s. A Reuters reporter said a wedding singer and his brother were at this gathering and died in the blasts The singer’s cousin was the source. Kimmitt stuck to his “We don’t know, we’re investigating,” line and promised … an investigation.
Finally, after a brisk 37 minutes, Senor cut off the questioning and called it a day.