seen as contender for
prime minister slot
Duplicitous schemer Ahmad Chalabi could become Iraq’s prime minister.
As Iraq spirals out of control, one of the most villainous players in the disastrous 2003 US invasion of the fracturing land has made an astounding comeback.
The resurrection of Ahmad Chalabi was, ironically, capped with a front-page story and photo in The New York Times today.
He is referred to as a contender to replace Nuri Kamal al-Maliki as the country’s prime minister.
If any individual can be singled out for misleading the US public into its most futile and expensive exercise in nation building ever, it is Chalabi.
Now he is mentioned as a potential Iraqi leader.
Are we doomed to repeat history?
Of all the media that should be wary of Chalabi, The Times is most notable. In 2004, it was forced into a humiliating “correction” of a series of stories based on false information emanating from Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress.
We discussed this in detail more than a year ago, in Who caused more harm at The New York Times in 2003 and concluded it was Judy Miller and her reporting on WMD in the run-up to the Iraq war based on anonymous sources, chief among whom was Chalabi.
Just three days ago, The Times’ Public Editor Margaret Sullivan noted in her column that readers have not forgotten the paper’s lapses in the run-up to the invasion.
The New York Times story on the resurrection of Ahmad Chalabi. Click image to enlarge.
In Covering New War, in Shadow of Old One she admits that “readers have good reason to be wary about what appears in the paper about military intervention in Iraq.”
The reason is that many remember how anonymously sourced stories advancing the fabrication that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction appeared at the top of page one frequently in the six months preceding the invasion.
In an unprecedented note from the editors a year later, we learned the source of the false claims that convinced so many that war with Iraq was the only option.
In The Times and Iraq published May 26, 2004, the editors wrote:
“The problematic articles varied in authorship and subject matter, but many shared a common feature. They depended at least in part on information from a circle of Iraqi informants, defectors and exiles bent on “regime change” in Iraq, people whose credibility has come under increasing public debate in recent weeks.
“The most prominent of the anti-Saddam campaigners, Ahmad Chalabi, has been named as an occasional source in Times articles since at least 1991, and has introduced reporters to other exiles.”
What the note did not say was that chief WMD reporter Judith Miller depended on Chalabi and his minions as anonymous sources for many of her page-one stories of the period.
The stories were wrong.
The Daily Beast minced no words about putative Iraqi leader Ahmad Chalabi.
Today’s installment is actually brutal in its depiction of Chalabi – then and now.
In For Iraq, Potential Leader With a Tarnished Past Rod Nordland writes:
“He took millions of dollars from the C.I.A., founded and was accused of defrauding the second-biggest bank in Jordan and sold the Bush administration a bill of goods on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.”
Alas, that “bill of goods” was too often reported as fact on the front page of The Times.
To be sure, The Times was not the only publication to fall for the Chalabi lies. But in its preeminent position as the “paper of record” it set the tone for many others who joined the chorus in the run-up to war.
But did The Times learn its lesson?
Sullivan notes that despite its revamped (and public) policy on use of unnamed sources, “certainly, they have dominated the paper’s recent coverage from Washington.”
And, it seems, from Iraq.
From today’s story:
“You know, there is a saying in Arabic that when you have seen death, you don’t mind a high fever,” said one aide to Mr. Maliki …” (who remains anonymous, with no reason offered.)
The resurrection of Ahmad Chalabi is instructive in that it reminds us of one the main reasons Iraq finds itself in such an impossible quandary today and the role US media played in getting it there.
Chalabi follows by a few weeks the other architect of the disaster, Dick Cheney, who had the gall to criticize the current administration in a Wall Street Journal piece.
Let us hope The Times and the US media in general is wiser this time. The American people certainly seem to be, with solid opposition to another military adventure in the war-torn land.
It is inexplicable how a thoroughly discredited individual such as Chalabi could be remotely qualified to lead Iraq into the future. But it speaks to the desperation of the situation that he is even in the running.
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