U.S. Soldiers Raid Chalabi’s Home in Iraq
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ U.S. soldiers and Iraqi police raided the residence of longtime American ally Ahmad Chalabi on Thursday, and aides accused the Americans of trying to pressure him to stop complaining about U.S. plans for Iraq after sovereignty is transferred in about six weeks.
American officials here have complained privately that Chalabi is interfering with a U.S. investigation into allegations that Saddam Hussein’s regime skimmed billions of dollars in oil revenues during the U.N.-run oil-for-food program.
But coalition spokesman Dan Senor said that investigation has ``nothing to do with what transpired today″ and that Chalabi and his organization, the Iraqi National Congress, were not the targets.
A senior coalition official said on condition of anonymity that an Iraqi judge had issued several warrants and the details would be released later.
At a press conference after the raid, Chalabi lashed out at the ruling Coalition Provisional Authority, complaining it was coddling former members of Saddam’s Baath Party and treating Iraqis badly.
``I am America’s best friend in Iraq,″ Chalabi said. ``If the CPA finds it necessary to direct an armed attack against my home, you can see the state of relations between the CPA and the Iraqi people.″
He said he was asleep when police stormed into his room carrying pistols.
``I was asleep. I opened the door. The police went into my room carrying pistols,″ Chalabi said. ``I told them to get out.″
Police seized documents related to the oil-for-food program, a report by the Oil Ministry to the Governing Council and letters from the council, he said.
Chalabi claimed U.S. authorities here were angry with him because ``I am now calling for policies to liberate the Iraqi people, to get full sovereignty now and I am pushing the gate in a way they don’t like.
``I have opened up the investigation of the oil-for-food program which has cast doubt about the integrity of the U.N. here, which they don’t like.″
In a statement, Chalabi’s INC party accused authorities of behaving in ``a manner unbecoming in the climate of the new Iraq″ and reminiscent of ``the former fascist regime.″
It called on the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, of which Chalabi is a prominent member, to take ``a national and responsible stand toward these provocations.″
Chalabi aide Haidar Musawi said the U.S.-Iraqi force surrounded Chalabi’s compound in Baghdad’s Mansour district at about 10:30 a.m., while Chalabi was inside. Force members told Chalabi’s aides they wanted to search the house for wanted INC officials.
The aides agreed to let one unarmed Iraqi policeman inside to look around.
American soldiers and armed U.S. civilians wearing flak jackets milled about the compound and people were seen loading boxes into vehicles. Aides said documents and computers were seized without warrants.
Salem Chalabi, nephew of Ahmad Chalabi and head of the Iraqi war crimes tribunal, said his uncle told him 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 the coalition ``must be afraid of his political movement.″
Ahmad 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 on June 30.
Musawi accused the Americans of trying to pressure Chalabi, a longtime Pentagon favorite.
``Why is this happening at a time when the government is being formed?″ Musawi told The Associated Press.
The Americans also raided other INC offices, he said.
``The INC is ready to have any impartial and judicial body investigate any accusation against it,″ Musawi said. ``There are American parties who have a list of Iraqi personalities that they want arrested to put pressure on the Iraqi political force.″
Another party official, Qaisar Wotwot, said the raid 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 received montly payments from the Pentagon, in part for intelligence passed along by exiles about Saddam’s purported weapons of mass destruction.
Chalabi has been criticized since large stockpiles of such weapons were never found.
U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz confirmed earlier this week, during testimony before Congress, that Washington has ended payments of $340,000 a month to Chalabi’s organization.
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.
The oil-for-food program, which began in December 1996 and ended in November, was designed to help Iraqis cope with U.N. sanctions.
U.S. and coalition officials recently accused Chalabi of undermining their investigation into the program. The U.S.-backed probe has collected more than 20,000 files from Saddam’s old regime and hired the American accounting firm Ernst & Young to review them.
Chalabi launched his own investigation, saying an independent probe will have more credibility. He exposed alleged abuses of the oil-for-food program early on 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.
Iraq’s U.S. civilian administrator, L. Paul Bremer, has resisted that request.
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.
Another source of tension could be Chalabi’s calls for closer relations with Iran. Washington and Tehran have been at odds since Islamic revolutionaries ousted Iran’s U.S.-backed shah in 1979 and held Americans hostage for more than a year.