Chalabi faces protests as he resurfaces in Washington
Wed Nov 9, 1:57 AM ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) - Wily Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi meets US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, but will have to stare down protestors seething over his role in a row over Iraq war intelligence.
Chalabi, in his latest incarnation as an Iraqi deputy prime minister, will make his first speech in the US capital for two-and-a-half years at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
Critics accuse Chalabi, once a darling of the Pentagon and neoconservative hawks, of peddling false intelligence and seducing the United States into a war which has now killed more than 2,000 US soldiers.
He arrived in Washington Tuesday with the White House reeling from the indictment of senior aide I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby in a federal probe, which shone new light onto the administration's justification for the ouster of Saddam Hussein.
He will also meet Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Bush's national security advisor Stephen Hadley, Treasury Secretary John Snow and senior figures in Congress, his spokesman Francis Brooke said.
US-educated Chalabi, who led a long exiled campaign against Saddam, fell out of favor in Washington following claims he passed US intelligence to Iran. He has denied the charges and an FBI probe into the alleged affair is yet to report.
Now, like a politician with nine lives and as he positions himself ahead of Iraq's election in December, Chalabi is back in Washington's circles of power.
His trip has angered opposition Democrats who are demanding answers into the Iran allegations and want to know the extent to which he provided now discredited intelligence used to make the case for war with Iraq.
"It is very difficult to track how this man, who gave us such misleading information before the invasion of Iraq -- now under active investigation for endangering American troops --- is now the toast of the town in the Department of the Treasury and Department of State," said Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois Tuesday.
State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli refused to comment on the status of the FBI probe, but said that Chalabi would meet top US officials in his official government capacity.
"Ahmed Chalabi is the deputy prime minister of Iraq ... in that capacity, US government officials regularly meet with Dr. Chalabi."
Chalabi, a Shiite Muslim, is seen by US officials as a "viable" candidate in December's polls, and has made no secret he would like to be prime minister of Iraq.
Brooke said Chalabi was particularly keen to press top US officials on the need to quickly improve Iraq's infrastructure, including the electricity and water networks.
But some experts are puzzled over what Washington may gain from his visit.
When Colin Powell was secretary of state, the State Department was cool toward Chalabi, and its skepticism was shared by some in the CIA.
Whatever private feelings top Bush aides may still hold towards Chalabi, little would be gained by snubbing him.
Chalabi stirred intrigue this month by travelling to Tehran, where President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had ignited a new war of words with Washington.
Some people also criticise Chalabi because he was sentenced in absentia in 1992 by a Jordanian court to 22 years in prison, accused of corruption and embezzlement of 288 million dollars over the collapse of Petra bank of which he was managing director.
He has denied wrongdoing.