‘Unpopular, corrupt’ Chalabi likely to be shown the door
By Damien McElroy
DOKAN, Iraq: In an orange bungalow on a hill overlooking an aquamarine lake, the man who would be the next Iraqi leader spent last week furiously working the phones to London and Washington, in search of the recognition that he has craved for decades.
Ahmad Chalabi, 57, an urbane, British-educated former banker who used to be based in Knightsbridge, hoped that the Americans would support his plans to lead an Iraqi interim authority. By Friday, his hopes had been largely dashed when Zalmay Khalilzad, President Bush’s special envoy to the Iraqi opposition, refused to back his proposals.
It was a bitter blow to Mr Chalabi’s hopes of being Iraq’s next president. While his cashmere-clad aides at the lakeside headquarters in Dokan say that Mr Chalabi is “related to everybody and respected by all”, it is claimed by others that ordinary people view him as deeply unpopular. Recent opinion polls report that just nine per cent of people in the Kurdish region want Mr Chalabi to become president.
“This man is so corrupt, so hungry for power, the people don’t want him,” claims a former Kurdish minister. He added that he would be happy to have Mr Chalabi as a dinner party guest but not as a political leader. A number of local people have claimed that Mr Chalabi does not pay his debts. “Chalabi is really unpopular here for his high lifestyle and failure to pay his bills,” said Baravan Dohuk, a lawyer in Arbil.
He claims to have access to scores of writs served against Mr Chalabi that were suppressed. Mohammad Nair, who now drives a taxi, was once a prosperous shopkeeper in the town of Arbil. He says that his business went bust in 1995 after Mr Chalabi requisitioned 25,000 dinars (£5,000) worth of blankets for his embryonic army. Mr Nadir claims that he has never paid his debt. “There are many people like me: 10 or more of my friends alone, who are owed money by Mr Chalabi,” Mr Nair said. “That is why he never comes here to Arbil. If he did, we would grab him and hold him until he paid us back.”
All these accusations are denied by Mr Chalabi who says they are politically motivated. His deputy said: “We have never seen these papers [writs]. We would love to meet these individuals or see the papers. If there is anything, it can be rectified. There is a political attempt to undermine Mr Chalabi with all this.” Francis Brookes, a Washington-based lobbyist who is now ensconced in Mr Chalabi’s Dokan headquarters, told The Telegraph: “You’re not talking to the right people. Talk to people who don’t speak English and you’ll get a different picture.”
Mr Chalabi took up residence in the Kurdish area of northern Iraq at the end of last year. He is in charge of the Iraqi opposition’s relations with America. Until last week, he believed that the White House was on the brink of recognising him as Saddam’s replacement, and recognising the Iraqi opposition as the alternative government to the Ba’athist regime.
The call never came. Mr Khalilzad told the opposition it must bide its time until a ceasefire was in place. Mr Chalabi’s opposition says it remains ready to form a national coalition “at the moment of liberation”. —ST