Monday, November 14, 2005
Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld Play Hide the Chalabi
By Charles Aldinger
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi, once embraced and then shunned by the Bush administration, held talks with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Monday but the Pentagon did not allow television cameras to record the event.
He also held a private meeting at the White House with Vice President Dick Cheney after his 45 minutes of talks with Rumsfeld, but Cheney's office would not provide details.
Chalabi's trip to Washington has angered Iraq war critics who have denounced the visit of the man most associated with discredited prewar intelligence on Iraq.
Democratic lawmakers have demanded to know why Chalabi was meeting top U.S. officials after allegations he had passed American secrets to Iran and they urged congressional committees to subpoena him for testimony.
Last week Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met Chalabi but did not appear publicly with him, underscoring the political sensitivity of the meeting.
A senior U.S. defense official said Rumsfeld and Chalabi discussed the importance of protecting Iraq's oil and electric power grids from insurgent attacks and improving intelligence-gathering by U.S.-led military forces in Iraq.
The Pentagon did not allow television cameras to record Chalabi's arrival. His visit to Washington ahead of Iraqi elections next month comes amid a bitter U.S. debate over President George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq in 2003 and Bush's conduct of the war in which more than 2,060 Americans have died.
Information provided by Chalabi's organization, the Iraqi National Congress, was influential in making the case for the Iraq war within the U.S. government. But critics say the information greatly exaggerated the threat posed by former President Saddam Hussein.
Chalabi was taken into Iraq by the American forces, along with an armed group of supporters, as Washington tried to build a new power structure in the weeks after the invasion. But he soon fell into disfavor, targeted with allegations that he betrayed U.S. secrets to Iran.
A senior defense official, who asked not to be identified, said the Pentagon meeting lasted about 45 minutes and included Rumsfeld and some of his key policy advisers."Chalabi expressed appreciation and gratitude to the U.S. armed forces for their commitment to Iraq's freedom and transition to self-government." the defense official added, quoting Chalabi as saying: "There is a bond of blood between Iraq and the U.S. in fighting for the cause of freedom."
"There was discussion about the need to continue to improve upon the intelligence-gathering capabilities of the coalition and further refine the ability of the Iraq security forces to disrupt and ultimately defeat the insurgents," the official said.
Explaining the Pentagon's decision to prohibit cameras from recording Chalabi's arrival, spokesman Bryan Whitman said, "He's not a minister of defense. This is not typically the level of official that we would do photo opportunities."The Pentagon in May 2004 ended the roughly $340,000 monthly payments it had been making to Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, which had received millions of dollars from the Pentagon and other parts of the U.S. government. Within days, U.S. and Iraqi forces raided his headquarters in Iraq.