But the tough-talking Ahmad Chalabi’s home and offices were raided on Thursday – a sure sign that the former ally has fallen out of favour with US movers and shakers.

The pro-Western former banker already had his critics in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the US State Department, which doubted his calibre to become a key national figure.

His conviction in absentia for a multi-million dollar bank fraud didn’t help him gain the trust of Iraqis either.

Support at the Pentagon now also appeared at its lowest ebb.

It has cut off $340,000 a month funding to Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress party (INC).

40 years in exile

The man who spent four decades in exile and was touted as Iraq's version of Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai had begun to criticise the United States and its plans to hand over sovereignty to Iraqis at the end of next month.

In recent months, Chalabi has repeatedly butted heads with US authorities in Washington and Baghdad. On trips to the United States he has criticised policy in Iraq.

In an interview with Reuters in Baghdad on Saturday, he said Washington had to hand Iraqis control of their oil revenue and security forces or the 30 June power transfer would be meaningless.

He also insisted the United States should let an interim government control spending and choose who will command and serve in the armed forces if Washington wanted to regain its credibility in Iraq.

No constituency

Iraqis have been wary of the IGC
as a whole

While Chalabi's friends in the United States helped maintain his high profile with the US administration before the US-led invasion began last year, his Iraqi allies were never convinced, arguing he lacked a clear constituency.

Nevertheless, the Pentagon flew him into Iraq with a group of followers after the invasion last year, giving him an opportunity to establish a political base.

But he struggled to drum up support and surveys in Iraq have ranked him as one of the least-liked politicians.

US officials have said they had doubts about the intelligence the INC provided and about whether Chalabi was motivated chiefly by a desire for power.

In its pre-war role, the INC directed Iraqi defectors to the US government to provide intelligence that critics now say was largely spun to prod the United States into taking action
against Baghdad.

Chalabi was convicted in absentia of bank fraud in 1992 by a military court in Jordan, where he had founded a bank that failed. He says the charges were politically motivated.

Chalabi often said his role would end with the "liberation" of Iraq but few doubted he would refuse power if it were thrust upon him.

Chalabi's critics say as the State Department prepares to take over control of US operations in Iraq after 30 June, he is no longer seen as indispensable.