May 22, 2013
Dinner With Ahmed
Posted on Mar 17, 2008
By Scott Ritter
The discussion moved on to the matter of Singer’s Chalabi paper. In the kitchen, Chalabi’s driver had put on an apron and was busy putting together plates of appetizers and beginning preparations for dinner. I had spent the better part of the last three years investigating the inner workings of Saddam’s government, and how the Iraqi president shaped his internal domestic constituencies. “The premise of gaining support among the Kurds and Shi’a I can’t take issue with,” I said, “except to note that my experience with both groups is that neither represents a homogeneous movement that can be treated as a singular element. Things will be much more complicated than that. The key to me is what is missing here: any discussion of the Baath Party or the Sunni tribes. The Baath Party is the only vehicle that exists in Iraq today that unites Sunnis, Shi’a and Kurds alike. It makes modern Iraq function. How do you plan on dealing with the Baath Party in a post-Saddam environment? And what is your plan for winning over the Sunni tribes? How will you bring the tribes that represent the foundation of Saddam’s political support into the fold with your Kurdish and Shi’a supporters?”
Steve Rademaker and Francis Brooke stared blankly. Chalabi was grinning ear to ear. “We have a plan. First, we will do away completely with the Baath Party. Those minor members who were forced to join out of survival, of course, they will be allowed to retain their jobs. But anyone who profited from Baathist rule will be punished. As for the Sunni tribes, we are already in contact with their representatives. We feel that the best way to negotiate with them, however, is to make them realize that there is no future with Saddam. Once they realize that, they will come over to our side.” Chalabi’s “plan” struck me as simplistic at best, and entirely unrealistic.
“What about defeating Saddam’s military?” I asked as the hors d’oeuvres were laid out. “Not just the Iraqi army, but the security forces closest to Saddam, the Special Republican Guard and others?” Chalabi said a few words to Brooke, who got up and returned with a three-page paper entitled “The Military Plan.” Chalabi handed me the document. “This was written for me by Gen. Wayne Downing. I believe you know him from Operation Desert Storm.” Downing commanded U.S. commandos operating in western Iraq who were tasked with interdicting Iraqi Scud missile launches against Israel. I had participated in that effort.
Downing’s paper outlined a plan that had the U.S. military training and equipping a force of several thousand INC soldiers who would operate out of bases in western Iraq. These forces would be equipped with light vehicles armed with anti-tank missile launchers, which Downing believed would be more than a match for any armored force the Iraqis might muster. The plan postulated support from the local tribes in western Iraq, especially the al-Duleimi in and around Ramadi and Anbar. I thought this somewhat fanciful, since the al-Duleimi were among the tribes that provided manpower for some of Saddam’s most elite units. I said as much, but Chalabi dismissed my concerns with a flick of his wrist. “My people have already had discussions with the tribal leaders of the al-Duleimi, who are ready to join us once we get situated on the ground.”
There was a knock at the door, and Chalabi’s butler answered. In walked Rademaker’s wife, Danielle Pletka, accompanied by none other than James Woolsey, a former director of the CIA. They found seats around the table, and it became clear that this was where we would be eating. The discussion moved from the flawed military planning evident in Gen. Downing’s paper and onto the issue of Chalabi’s political future. Jim Woolsey was an unabashed supporter of Chalabi, something I found strange since Chalabi and the CIA were at odds over many aspects of the INC’s past operations. “This [criticism] is all bunk,” Woolsey said. “Chalabi is an Iraqi patriot and visionary who intimidates many lesser thinkers in Langley [CIA headquarters]. My friend Ahmed is a risk taker who understands the reality of Iraq, unlike the desk-bound analysts and risk-averse operators at the CIA. Chalabi scares these people, so they have created false accusations in order to denigrate him and ultimately destroy him.” Danielle Pletka chimed in. “We cannot allow this to happen. Ahmed Chalabi has many friends in Congress, and it is our goal to make sure Ahmed Chalabi gets the support he needs to not only survive as a viable opposition figure to Saddam Hussein but more importantly to prevail in Iraq.”
And so the night went. Dinner with Ahmed had turned into a political strategy session, the primary topic of interest being how to breathe new life and legitimacy into Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress so that a viable, and thus politically supportable, opposition to Saddam Hussein might be formed. According to Chalabi, this viable opposition already existed; all that was needed was funding and political support (not to mention military assistance in the form of advisers on the ground and fighter-bombers overhead). Personally, I doubted whether Chalabi could muster the forces he claimed inside Iraq. But my doubts were not shared by my dinner companions that evening, and as we sat afterward, sharing drinks and conversation, it was clear that Chalabi was being groomed for another run at power.
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