Dec 12, 2013
Dinner With Ahmed
Posted on Mar 17, 2008
By Scott Ritter
He had been embraced by the CIA in the early 1990s, only to be abandoned following halfhearted coup attempts the U.S. government failed to support, and accusations of financial mismanagement. But Trent Lott and the Republican Party were gunning for Bill Clinton and the Democrats, and they believed that with Iraq they had discovered a chink in Clinton’s armor. Chalabi was being resurrected before my eyes. They had picked their cause and selected their champion. Now all they needed was a springboard issue from which to launch their program. And that, apparently, was where I came in.
I rose early the next morning and went downstairs for breakfast before heading back to Capitol Hill and another round of meetings with senators that Pletka had arranged. Chalabi was already up, and we chatted a bit while I ate. “You see, Scott,” he said, “I have many friends here in Washington. With what you know about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, you can be of invaluable assistance to our cause. The VX story is but the tip of the iceberg.” I was taken aback, as I had not shared the VX lab report information with Chalabi. Clearly, one of our co-diners of the previous evening had spoken out of school. “Well, I am just a simple weapons inspector,” I replied. “In any event, it wouldn’t go over well back at the U.N. to have an UNSCOM inspector plotting regime change down in Washington, D.C.” I looked at Chalabi directly. “This is why you must be very discreet about the VX lab report. It simply won’t do for you to have your fingerprints on this information.”
Chalabi smiled and nodded. “I understand completely. As for your status as a weapons inspector, you must understand that those days are nearly gone. The inspection process has run its course. You need to think about what you are going to be doing in the future. I would like you to work for me.” I looked over at him. “How would that work? As an American citizen I can’t be working for you while planning the overthrow of Saddam. I believe there are laws against that.” Chalabi laughed. “Of course. You wouldn’t be working for me, but for the U.S. Senate. My friends would create an advisory position for you, and you would in turn advise me. It wouldn’t pay much upfront,” he said. “But don’t worry. One day I will be the president of Iraq, and will be in control of Iraq’s oil. When that day comes, I will not forget those who helped me in my time of need. Let’s just say that my friends will be given certain oil concessions that will make them very wealthy.” I remained silent.
Chalabi’s butler drove me to the Senate office buildings, where I met up with Pletka. She escorted me to the office of Sen. Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican. He had been fully briefed on the VX story. He was also interested in my description of how the Clinton administration was balking at fully supporting the work of the UNSCOM inspectors. “This will not stand,” he said when I was finished. “Believe me when I say you and your colleagues have friends here in the U.S. Senate who will make sure America honors its commitments and obligations, especially when it comes to disarming a cruel tyrant such as Saddam Hussein.”
Armed with that potential job offer, I left Washington and returned to New York. Richard Butler was due back at the U.N., where he was planning to announce a “major breakthrough” regarding Iraq’s approach to disarmament. There was to be no mention of the specific details of the VX lab report findings, although Butler had alluded to their existence, and the Iraqi rejection of these findings. Butler was to make a presentation to the Security Council on June 25th. However, my visit to Washington produced results that dramatically altered his planned presentation.
On June 23rd, The Washington Post published a front-page story headlined “Tests Show Nerve Gas Agent in Iraqi Weapons.” The article made the main gist of the Aberdeen lab results public. It also reported on the political work undertaken by Lott and the Republicans based on that information. According to the Post story, “The new indications of Iraqi deception also are likely to reverberate in U.S. politics, where conservative Republicans are increasingly critical of what they see as a failure by the Clinton administration to support strongly either aggressive UNSCOM inspections for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction or efforts to overthrow Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.”
Senate Majority Leader Lott was quoted in the article as being “deeply disturbed” by reports that the administration had not acted on the VX information. “The latest example of a failed policy toward Iraq will not be swept under the rug,” the Post quoted him as saying. I was just about to conclude that my visit had been a tremendous success when I caught a line in the middle of the article. “The Washington Post obtained a copy of the U.S. Army lab report from officials of the Iraqi National Congress, the principal Iraqi exile opposition group.” After watching the Republicans build up Chalabi, I should have known that they could not have passed up this opportunity to interject his name into the limelight. “This is a smoking gun,” Chalabi said to The Washington Post. “It shows that Saddam is still lying, and that this whole arrangement based on his turning his weapons of terror over to the United Nations is not workable.” The Post then quoted a “Republican Senate source” who echoed Chalabi’s concern: “This report means that they have VX out there now, and can use it. They have lied from the start.”
Today, in the aftermath of the American invasion of Iraq, I think back on my visit to Washington and my dinner with Ahmed Chalabi and his friends. The ramifications of that visit were many.
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