Iraqi judiciary shows it is alive and kicking

Ahmed Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), has again found himself in the grips of a scandal. Zuhair al-Maliki, chairman of the central investigative tribunal in Iraq, has accused him of counterfeiting money and issued a warrant for his arrest. Another arrest warrant is out for his nephew - Salem - who previously led the Iraqi tribunal for war crimes, but is now wanted for murder. Uncle and nephew have denied the charges and claim their political opponents are pursuing a vendetta against them. However, they have failed to provide any specific names.

What do the arrest warrants against uncle and nephew Chalabis means? Are they a sign of the state system's gradual stabilisation or a continuation of the jockeying for power and influence in Iraq, or, worse still, a way to square accounts, now a popular practice following the deposition of the Saddam Hussein regime?

Well before the war in Iraq, Ahmed Chalabi was tipped in Washington to succeed Saddam. He was the blue-eyed boy of both the CIA and the Pentagon. The INC was one of the most well supported Iraqi opposition organisations, as every month the US transferred more than $300,000 dollars to its accounts. At congresses of the Iraqi opposition ahead of the war, Chalabi insisted on an immediate forming of a government in exile that was, naturally, to be led by himself. But the idea did not go down well with the other opposition parties. Chalabi was virtually a wild card in Iraq. His followers did not take up arms against the Hussein regime, unlike the Kurdish parties or the Shia Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution. The Chalabi family left Iraq and settled down in Jordan in 1958 before Saddam and the Baath Party took over. He never had the halo of a martyr or a fighter against the regime. On the contrary, those familiar with Chalabi considered him to be a crook.

In the early 1990s, he was sentenced in absentia to imprisonment in Jordan for financial irregularities and was forced to flee the country. His charge sheet included theft, misuse of deposited funds, and foreign currency speculation. It was following his escape from Jordan that Chalabi set up his party and established close contacts with the Americans.

But even with the backing of the Americans, Chalabi could never have been seen as a viable Iraqi leader. The Americans bet on the wrong horse, and they reneged on co-operation with INC this spring. The funding was cut off, formally because Chalabi had been accused of passing secret information to Iran. The media simultaneously ran stories that CIA information about an Iraqi WMD laboratory, information that provided the justification for the war and later proved to be false, had been furnished by Chalabi men. Not only were the laboratory data found to be wanting, but even a general analysis of the situation in Iraq. And then came confirmation that Chalabi had no supporters to speak of in Iraq, which had plunged into chaos by this time, and that the Americans had wasted their money on him. However, by this spring, the Americans had already established a firm foothold in Iraq and no longer needed Chalabi.

The Americans hardly want to see Chalabi stand trial in Iraq or anywhere else. The man has a mass of interesting details to tell of his co-operation with the CIA and the Pentagon and could dish the dirt on many influential American politicians. Evidently this is why, even after allegedly passing the American secrets to the Iranians, Chalabi was still at large.

Now the Iraqis themselves, not the Americans, have levelled the charges against Chalabi. He has to prove his innocence to an Iraqi court, while the court has to show its independence and professional qualities. If the court succeeds, one might well be able to say that the judiciary in Iraq is on its way to recovery.

RIA Novosti political analyst Marianna Belenkaya

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Author`s name: Editorial Team