Ahmed Chalabi: A proud pawn for a big American lie

He died unexpectedly and unrepentant and even proud of his role.

No doubt Chalabi took part in orchestrating the war drive, writes Andoni [Getty]

The claims that it was Ahmed Chalabi who has pushed the United States into invading his country in 2003 are not only false but self-serving by those seeking to exonerate Washington from the consequences of its imperial aggression and crimes.

Chalabi was a willing and a proud pawn for the neo-cons and warmongers in Washington and the West, and he provided them an Iraqi/Arab name that lent “authenticity” to a deliberate campaign of deceit and lies – with the aim of justifying the invasion of Iraq to American and global public opinion. 

He relished his role, and no doubt took part in orchestrating the war drive. But to believe that the Pentagon and CIA were duped into believing false information about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) is the real and bigger lie.

The perfect candidate

The neo-cons in Washington, who never hid their agenda of preventing any regional power but Israel from emerging in the region, found the suave, MIT-educated banker a perfect voice and image to promote their campaign to troops of charmed journalists.

Many Western journalists – liberals and conservatives alike – saw Chalabi as the modernised Arab, who shared the Western values “of freedom and civility”, thus relieving their conscience from the burden of Western culpabilities that they often heard repeated by other Arab intellectuals in the region.

By late 1990s and the early years of the 2000s, Chalabi emerged as the main media face and voice that articulated “moral” and “factual” reasons “to liberate” Iraq – thus the US’ motives, aims or allegations were not subject to further scrutiny as lies became truthful facts and givens.

A secularist in his lifestyle, Chalabi had no problem using his Shia background to gain access to supreme Iranian leaders, while his Shia “identity” boosted the war hawks’ motto of coming to the rescue of the oppressed Iraqi Shia majority.

Also read: Ahmed Chalabi: The real victor of the Iraq War

His close association with Tehran and public visits also served the neo-con agenda, as he totally understood the Iranian leaders’ acquiescence with efforts to overthrow Saddam, and the opportunity that presented to fill in the power vacuum in Iraq.

But it was his role in building the case for passing the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 , which committed the US to topple Saddam’s regime and pushed Chalabi to prominence and into the inner circles of power in Washington.

A servant of the Empire

According to all published narratives, especially in those years, it was historian Bernard Lewis who introduced Chalabi to the neo-con clique, mainly to its dark knight, Richard Perle, who maintained his friendship with the controversial Iraqi politician to the very end.

Lewis – whose book “What Went Wrong?” was like a bible  for the neo-cons – perceived Chalabi as another servant of the empire, an attitude reminiscent of local leaders and Maharajas who constituted the social basis for old colonial powers.

Chalabi was a master of contradictions, which made it difficult for many to recognise what was real and not real.


Chalabi, a son of an aristocratic family, who lost its influence after the overthrow of the pro-Western Hashemite monarchy in 1958, naturally opposed the successive rulers of Iraq and openly called for the overthrow of Saddam. This was long before the neo-cons gained power or even emerged.

In the 1980s he lived in Amman, established the Petra Bank with full backing of the Hashemite palace. This made him one of the most influential men in the country. But while his close association with the Hashemites seemed natural – as the palace had long-standing and strong ties with the exiled old Iraqi aristocracy – what was unexpected was how Chalabi garnered the trust and respect of the suppressed Jordanian opposition.

Jordan was under martial law, yet Chalabi openly met Jordanian opposition and bragged – to me at least – that he helped some of them through loans after they were released from prison, and he hired many activists banned from work through the Jordanian security in his bank.

He established an arts department at his bank, sponsoring exhibitions, headed by the late respected novelist Moenes al-Razzaz, son of the Baathist thinker, Munif al-Razzaz, who was imprisoned by Saddam for calling for democracy.

Charming personality

I experienced Chalabi’s charm first hand when he showed interest and expressed his solidarity with me when, as a young journalist, I was banned from working for local newspapers. He invited me to both his office and opulent villa several times to meet.

He was a personal friend of the then-Prime Minister Zaid al-Rifai, who publicly accused me of lying in my reporting for Western media, but Chalabi showed his real intentions, all of a sudden, when he offered to “mediate” with the authorities that suggested I had to behave.

Also read: A divisive legacy: Tariq Aziz (1936-2015)

But Chalabi’s reputation as supporter “of dissenting activists and intellectuals”, bore fruit when many rallied in his support in 1989, when the Jordanian authorities turned against him, taking over Petra Bank and finally convicting him of embezzling $300m – a charge he persistently denied.

Jordan pursued Chalabi, who was said to have fled the country in a car boot, raising strong suspicions that high-profile figures were implicated in the “Petra affair”, while his role in the Iraq war campaign deemed him untouchable.


Chalabi was a master of contradictions, which made it difficult for many to recognise what was real and not real: In the 1980s, he supported Iran in the war with Iraq, openly contradicting Jordan’s official policy and the Lebanese-Shia Amal militias’ siege on the Palestinian camps while arguing for the justice of the Palestinian cause.

Chalabi, however, didn’t reach his coveted position of Iraqi power due to failures of the US’ polices in Iraq and blame exchanges between his defenders in the two administrations of George W Bush.

He died unexpectedly and unrepentant and even proud of his role .

Yes, Chalabi was a con artist par excellence, but the stream of claims of innocence by American writers and politicians are acts of shameless con artistry at best.

Lamis Andoni is an analyst and commentator on Middle Eastern and Palestinian affairs.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.