The Cable

U.S. ambassador doubles down on Chalabi’s Iran connections

When the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, accused Ahmed Chalabi, the former Bush administration confident and prominent Iraqi politician, as being "clearly influenced by Iran" on Tuesday, there was some pushback.

Odierno showed a "profound lack of understanding of Iraqi politics," Chalabi's Washington representative Francis Brooke told Eli Lake of the Washington Times, adding, "Every senior Iraqi politician, particularly the Kurdish and Shi'ite parties, has diplomatic relations with Iran."

Today, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Chris Hill not only backed up Odierno's comments, he went even further in criticizing Chalabi and his cohort, Ali Faisal al-Lami, the executive director of Iraq's Accountability and Justice Commission. That's the panel at the center of the scandal surrounding the disqualification of Sunni candidates in Iraq's upcoming parliamentary elections. Chalabi is the panel's chairman.

Responding to a question by The Cable at today's press conference, Hill laid into both Iraqi men and criticized Chalabi for inappropriately holding onto power:

I absolutely agree with General Odierno on this. And absolutely, these gentlemen are certainly under the influence of Iran. These were people, or in the case of Chalabi, he was named by the CPA administrator, Ambassador Bremer, back in '03 as the head of the de-Baathification Committee. It was a committee that went out of existence two years ago, replaced by the Accountability and Justice Committee. Everyone else understood that they -- that that would -- that their terms expired with the expiration of the committee, except for Mr. Chalabi, who assumed by himself the role of maintaining his ... a position in a new committee to which he was never named ... and I don't need to relate to you or anyone else here the fact that this is a gentleman who has been challenged over the years to be seen as a straightforward individual.

So I absolutely agree with General Odierno on his specific comments with respect to those two individuals, and I also agree with his comments about the fact that we remain concerned about Iran's behavior toward its neighbors. Iran should have a good relationship with its neighbor, but it needs to do a much better job of respecting its neighbor's sovereignty.

Asked if the U.S. government had "kind of moved on" from Chalabi, considering that he once had close ties to senior U.S. officials, Hill said that it's necessary to have some interactions with all Iraqi leaders.

"'Kind of moved on' is probably a good way to put it."

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