LA HERRADURA (SOUTH OF SPAIN)-PARIS, 26 May (IPS) As an urgent investigation has been launched in Washington into whether Iran played a role in manipulating the US into the Iraq war by passing on bogus intelligence through Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, informed Iranian intelligence sources said emphatically that it was “likely” but cautioned against the seriousness of American allegations.
Chalabi was not an Iranian agent, for the simple fact that we knew that he had no real network inside Iraq and what he claimed to be highly secret intelligence reports were for most of them fabricated.
“Some intelligence officials now believe that Iran used the hawks in the Pentagon and the White House to get rid of a hostile neighbour, and pave the way for a Shia-ruled Iraq, the influential British newspaper The Guardian reported on Tuesday.
“According to a US intelligence official, the CIA has hard evidence that Mr Chalabi and his intelligence chief, Aras Karim Habib, passed US secrets to Tehran, and that Mr Habib has been a paid Iranian agent for several years, involved in passing intelligence in both directions”, the paper added in a report from Washington D C.
“Chalabi was not an Iranian agent, for the simple fact that we knew that he had no real network inside Iraq and what he claimed to be highly secret intelligence reports were for most of them fabricated. On the other hand, we also knew that though he was very close to some sources at the Pentagon, yet he had no access to sensitive classified American intelligence. Nevertheless, we preserved our contacts with him, as we did with all other Iraqis opposed to Saddam, mostly the Kurds and Shi’a, with whom we had much closer working relationship and sheltered a million of them from Saddam’s mass extermination machine”, one source with access to the Office of the Leader (Ayatollah Ali Khameneh'i) told Iran Press Service on condition of anonymity.
On Sunday, after three days of deafening silence, Iran officially denied the CIA and American press allegations that Chalabi was a double agent and passing to the Iranians highly classified intelligence reports “that could endanger the lives of American troops in Iraq”, but confirmed that Tehran had contacts with the leader of the American-backed Iraqi National Congress (INC).
Mr Chalabi had vehemently rejected the allegations as "a lie, a fib and silly" and accused the CIA director, George Tenet, of “a smear campaign” against himself and Mr Aras Karim Habib, Chalabi’s chief intelligence officer.
“I had no classified or highly sensitive intelligence reports to pass them to the Iranians”, Chalabi said during his press conference. "When America treats its friends this way, then they are in big trouble," he said.
"The suggestion that Chalabi is a victim of a smear campaign is outrageous", a US intelligence official said. "It's utter nonsense. He passed very sensitive and classified information to the Iranians. We have rock solid information that he did that".
"As for Aras Karim [Habib] being a paid agent for Iranian intelligence, we have very good reason to believe that is the case", added the intelligence official who did not want to be named. He said it was unclear how long this INC-Iranian collaboration had been going on, but pointed out that Mr Chalabi had had overt links with Tehran "for a long period of time".
Mr Habib, a Shia Kurd who is being sought by Iraqi police since a raid on INC headquarters last week, has been Mr Chalabi's right hand man for more than a decade. He ran a Pentagon-funded intelligence collection programme in the run-up to the invasion and put US officials in touch with Iraqi defectors who made claims about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.
Those claims partly helped make the case for declaring war on Iraq but have since proved groundless, and US intelligence agencies are now scrambling to determine whether false information was passed to the US with Iranian connivance.
“Under the Shah, we had possibly the best intelligence network in Iraq next to the one run by the Soviets. Our agents swamped the country and we would share our information with the Americans and the Israelis, who were replying on us, having almost no one on the field except for few agents in Iraqi Kurdistan, where they would reach with our help”, another source, a former elite intelligence officer added.
According to this source, after the Islamic Revolution of 1979 that toppled the Iranian Monarch, -- another America’s best friend abandoned by Washington when he needed them more than ever – the ruling ayatollahs “completely cleaned” the SAVAK, Shah’s main intelligence gathering and secret police, getting rid of 90 per cent of its cadre, but left intact the departments dealing with foreign and domestic counter-espionage, including the network in Iraq.
Under the Shah, we had possibly the best intelligence network in Iraq next to the one run by the Soviets
“We had successfully turned many high-ranking Iraqi officials who would look on the surface as being the most anti-Iranian elements in the Iraqi government and party, going as far as engaging our men in places like Geneva, once a battle ground between the Iraqi and Iranian agents”, he said.
"It's pretty clear that Iranians had us for breakfast, lunch and dinner", said an intelligence source in Washington yesterday. "Iranian intelligence has been manipulating the US for several years through Chalabi".
Larry Johnson, a former senior counter-terrorist official at the state department said: "When the story ultimately comes out we'll see that Iran has run one of the most masterful intelligence operations in history. They persuaded the US and Britain to dispose of its greatest enemy".
Asked to comment on Mr. Johnson’s remarks, both sources said, “It is possible. “But as usual, one has to take them with maximum of precaution, for the allegations might be just the result of another endless fight between different American departments”, the sources with contacts to the Office of Leader warned.
“As I said, we had the best intelligence in Iraq. We were better informed on what was going on than any other country except for the Russians. But this was before the Islamic Revolution and before the (Iran-Iraq) War. However, the Iranians could well feed Mr. Chalabi and Mr.Habib with old information they had on Iraqi officials and let the pair do the rest, since, cut off by the new Iranian regime of their major source of information on Iraq, the Americans had to rely on anything they would be offered”, the former Iranian intelligence officer observed.
In fact, after the victory of the Islamic Revolution, Washington, in order to punish the new Iranian regime for letting students attack its embassy in Tehran and take 55 American diplomats and staff as hostage, cut all relations with Tehran and when the former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein attacked Iran, provided him with valuable military intelligence on Iranian troops movements and some chemical weapons as well. The honeymoon between them ended Mr. Hussein occupied the oil rich Sheykhdom of Kuwait in 1990.
It's pretty clear that Iranians had us for breakfast, lunch and dinner
Chalabi claimed to have close links with Iranian intelligence seven years ago, according to a former UN weapons inspector.
Scott Ritter, who before the war insisted that Saddam Hussein did not have significant weapons stocks, made the claim to Andrew Cockburn, a Washington-based journalist and the author of a biography of the ousted Iraqi dictator.
"When I met [Mr Chalabi] in December 1997 he said he had tremendous connections with Iranian intelligence," Mr Ritter said, according to an article by Mr Cockburn published today in the Guardian. "He said that some of his best intelligence came from the Iranians and offered to set up a meeting for me with the head of Iranian intelligence."
The CIA has asked the FBI to investigate Mr Chalabi's contacts in the Pentagon to discover how the INC acquired sensitive information that ended up in Iranian hands.
An intelligence source in Washington said the CIA confirmed its long-held suspicions when it discovered that a piece of information from an electronic communications intercept by the National Security Agency had ended up in Iranian hands. The information was so sensitive that its circulation had been restricted to a handful of officials.
CBS said the "rock solid" evidence was said to show that Chalabi himself gave Iranian intelligence officers information so closely guarded that if revealed it could "get Americans killed."
"This was 'sensitive compartmented information - SCI - and it was tracked right back to the Iranians through Aras Habib," the intelligence source said, not explaining Mr. Habib could have access to such highly information and restricted to a few people?
But Laurie Mylroie, a US Iraq analyst and one of the INC's most vocal backers in Washington, dismissed the allegations as the product of a grudge among CIA and state department officials driven by a pro-Sunni, anti-Shia bias.
She said that after the CIA raised questions about Mr Habib's Iranian links, the Pentagon's Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) conducted a lie-detector test on him in 2002, which he passed with "flying colours".
But CIA is not the only Organisation that suspect Mr. Chalabi of both espionage and corruption. King Abdollah of neighbouring Jordan has also provided the U.S. Administration what the Washington Post described as “bombshell intelligence” that Mr. Chalabi and his group were doing for Iran.
“An explosive dossier that the Jordanian Monarch recently brought with him to White House sessions with President Bush detailed Mafia-style extortion rackets and secret information on U.S. military operations being passed to Iran”, the paper quoted un-named diplomats as having said.
That new information led to the Bush administration's decision to stop its $340,000-a-month payments to Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress and back an aggressive Iraqi criminal probe into his activities.
King Abdollah of neighbouring Jordan has also provided the U.S. Administration what the Washington Post described as “bombshell intelligence” that Mr. Chalabi and his group were doing for Iran
The file was compiled by Jordan's intelligence service, which has had an interest in Chalabi, a former banker, since the 1992, when the Iraqi exile leader was sentenced in absentia to 22 years of jail for embezzling millions of dollars.
“The scandal stemmed from the collapse of the Bank of Petra, which Chalabi controlled”, the diplomatic officials said.
Just months ago, Chalabi had been favored by Bush administration hard-liners as the next leader of Iraq and sat behind First Lady Laura Bush at the State of the Union Address in January.
The Pentagon airlifted Chalabi and members of the INC into Iraq the day after Saddam Hussein fell and gave them prominent roles in the new governing council, in charge of the Finance Ministry and ridding Iraqi government agencies of Saddam's Ba'ath Party.
On Thursday 20 May, the relationship came to a bitter end as about 100 Iraqi police, backed by U.S. troops and FBI agents, raided Chalabi's palatial Baghdad home and issued arrest warrants for 15 members of the INC.
Officially, the raid was described as part of an Iraqi probe, launched by the Central Criminal Court of Iraq.
Chalabi aides running the new government's Finance Ministry are also accused of ripping off $22 million from the Iraqi Treasury when Iraq issued new currency late last year, U.S. officials said.
Chalabi enumerated several possible reasons for the raids, including differences with the American authorities over how to conduct an investigation into corruption in the United Nations' oil-for-food program in Iraq, and over how much power the Iraqis should assume when the country regains sovereignty on June 30.
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.
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."
Besides Paul Bremer, the United States top civilian Administrator of Iraq, Chalabi, in recent months has also criticized Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations official who is organizing an Iraqi government to take control of the country on first of July and whose efforts the White House has embraced. And he has objected to Mr. Bremer's efforts to leave the governing council out of an investigation of alleged corruption in the United Nations oil-for-food program for Iraq.
"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", Chalabi told journalists.
The oil-for-food program, which began in December 1996 and ended in November, was designed to help Iraqis cope with U.N. sanctions.
Meanwhile, some hard line Iranian officials from the conservatives controlled Hezbollah revealed that several brigades are set up to enrol people ready for suicide operations against American and British forces in Iraq.
According to the reformist internet website “Rooydad”, Mr. Forouz Raja’i Far, a (Iranian) Hezbollah commander, quoting Ayatollah Ali Khameneh’i saying that “suicide operations are the only effective and utile way of fighting world estekbar (imperialism)” said “such actions have had their positive results during the Iran-Iraq war as well as in Lebanon and Palestine and should continue”.
Recruiting volunteers would start as from 28 May, the officials announced, hoping there would be “many” enlisting.
For his part, Hasan Abbasi, an ideologist of the Revolutionary Guards said “only generalisation of suicide operations can root out American and British occupation forces out of Iraq” and added that not only struggle against the oppressors and the imperialists has no boundaries, but also terrorist and suicide actions against the Americans and their British allies are “justified”.
According to Mr. Abbassi, 29 places in the world have been designated for suicide operations and the plans had been passed on to all organisations fighting the Americans, but he did not name the places. ENDS CHALABI IRAN US 26504