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."

The Cable

Iranian jamming jams up the BBG

The Iranian regime's blanket censorship of satellite and Internet communications last week was so effective, it led many to wonder, why didn't the U.S. government do more to stop it?

But despite strong statements from the podium in Foggy Bottom, the Obama White House appears to be treading carefully. Three sources tell The Cable that the National Security Council at first tried to prevent Jeff Trimble, executive director of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the independent agency that oversees the U.S. government's media operations including Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America, from allowing VOA to attach its name to a statement last week with Deutsche Welle and the British Broadcasting Corporation protesting Iranian signal jamming.

Two sources close to the issue say the NSC first didn't want the VOA to join the statement if it mentioned "jamming." Later in the email chain, the NSC modified its position to object to the use of the term "intensified jamming."

According to Trimble, "The BBG wasn't asked not to participate in the statement."

"NSC is ok with our confirming that jamming continues, they ask that we not say for now that it has intensified," one Feb. 11 email from Trimble to several BBG staffers read.

Dan Austin, the president of VOA, acknowledged that changes had been made to the statement, but declined to discuss the NSC's role. He said that the U.S. government should not be interfering with the BBG's editorial content, but acknowledged that on the communications and policy side, the lines were less clear.

"If it doesn't violate the letter of the firewall, common sense dictates it violates the spirit," a BBG official told The Cable on background basis.

VOA did finally join the statement, and Trimble declined to confirm or deny that the White House pressured him. His spokeswoman sent The Cable a list of actions BBG has taken to combat Iranian censorship and referred to two previous BBG statements on the issue.

Meanwhile, the State Department says it is working furiously to increase its capabilities to confront the kind of censorship promulgated by Iran last week, bringing major Silicon Valley companies and top tech executives into the fold, and rushing to develop technologies that can overcome even the most draconian measures.

"We have gone from zero to 100 on this issue in the last 30 days, after inheriting an incredibly empty policy from the last administration," a State Department official told The Cable. "Does that mean that as of right now we are as far along as we intend to be in the not-distant future? Absolutely not."

The White House and NSC did not respond to queries by the time of publication.