U.S. Troops Raid Chalabi’s House in Iraq
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ U.S. soldiers and Iraqi police raided the residence of Iraqi politician Ahmad Chalabi on Thursday, and aides accused the Americans of holding guns to his head and bullying him over his criticism of plans for next month’s transfer of sovereignty.
There was no comment from U.S. authorities, but American officials here have complained privately that Chalabi _ a longtime Pentagon favorite _ is interfering with a U.S. investigation into allegations that Saddam Hussein’s regime skimmed millions in oil revenues during the U.N.-run oil-for-food program.
A Chalabi aide, Haidar Musawi, accused the Americans of trying to pressure Chalabi, who has become openly critical of U.S. plans for how much power to transfer to the Iraqis on June 30.
``The aim is to put political pressure,″ Musawi told The Associated Press. ``Why is this happening at a time when the government is being formed?″
He said the Americans also raided other offices of Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress.
Salem Chalabi, nephew of Ahmad Chalabi and head of the Iraqi war crimes tribunal, said his uncle told him by telephone that Iraqi and American authorities ``entered his home and put the guns to his head in a very humiliating way that reminds everyone of the conduct of the former regime.″
The younger Chalabi said the reason for the raid was unclear but ``they must be afraid of his political movement.″
American soldiers and armed U.S. civilians could be seen milling about Chalabi’s compound in the city’s fashionable Mansour district. Some people could be seen loading boxes into vehicles. Aides said documents and computers were seized without warrants.
Musawi said the U.S.-Iraqi force surrounded the residence about 10:30 a.m. while Chalabi, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council was inside. They told Chalabi’s aides that they wanted to search the house for Iraqi National Congress officials wanted by the authorities.
The aides agreed to let one unarmed Iraqi policeman inside to look around.
``The Iraqi police were very embarrassed and said that they (the Americans) ordered them to come and that they didn’t know it was Chalabi’s house,″ Musawi said. ``The INC is ready to have any impartial and judicial body investigate any accusation against it. There are American parties who have a list of Iraqi personalities that they want arrested to put pressure on the Iraqi political force.″
Abdul Kareem Abbas, an INC official, said Chalabi’s entourage objected to the raid but ``we couldn’t because they came with U.S. troops.″
``They came this morning, entered the office of Dr. Ahmad Chalabi and said that they were looking for people,″ said Abbas. He said they wanted to make arrests.
Another official, Qaisar Wotwot, said the operation was linked to Chalabi’s recent comments demanding full Iraqi control of oil revenues and security after the June 30 transfer of power.
``It’s a provocative operation, designed to force Dr. Chalabi to change his political stance,″ he said.
For years, Chalabi’s INC had received hundreds of thousands of dollars every month from the Pentagon, in part for intelligence passed along by exiles about Saddam’s purported weapons of mass destruction.
Chalabi has come under criticism since large stockpiles of such weapons were never found. Chalabi, a former banker and longtime Iraqi exile, was convicted of fraud in absentia in Jordan in 1992 in a banking scandal and sentenced to 22 years in jail. He has repeatedly denied the charges.
Chalabi has complained recently about U.S. plans to retain control of Iraqi security forces and maintain widespread influence over political institutions after power is transferred from the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority to an Iraqi interim administration at the end of June.
Musawi said Chalabi ``had been clear on rejecting incomplete sovereignty ... and against having the security portfolio remain in the hands of those who have proved their failure.″
However, U.S. and coalition officials have recently accused him of undermining the investigation into the oil-for-food program. The U.S.-backed investigation has collected more than 20,000 files from Saddam’s old regime and hired an American accounting firm Ernst & Young to conduct the review.
Chalabi has launched his own investigation, saying an independent probe will have more credibility. Chalabi took an early lead in exposing alleged abuses of the oil-for-food program and has been trying to force the coalition to give him the $5 million in Iraqi funds set aside for the probe to pay for his effort. The move was strongly resisted by the U.S. governor of Iraq, L. Paul Bremer.
Chalabi’s backers have hired a different firm, KPMG, to do its audit, but they want Bremer’s administration to pay the bill from the Iraqi funds it controls. The money comes from a fund of mostly seized Saddam assets and Iraqi oil sales.
The United Nations is conducting a third investigation led by former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker.