Wolfowitz: Chalabi Behavior ‘Puzzling’
Washington | June 22
(AP) – Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz insisted Tuesday that the Ahmed Chalabi’s organization provided information that helped U.S. forces in Iraq, but conceded that some of the Iraqi politician’s recent behavior was “puzzling.”
Wolfowitz, testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, denied that Chalabi was ever a favorite of the Pentagon, as he has been widely described.
More on Wolfowitz’ testimony from NYT: Wolfowitz Testifies Pentagon Misjudged the Strength of Iraqi Insurgency
Chalabi’s star has fallen in recent months because much of the intelligence his group supplied on Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction programs failed to pan out. Last month, U.S. soldiers and Iraqi police raided his residence and office. Allegations then surfaced that he supplied Iran with classified U.S. intelligence on American monitoring of Iranian communications.
“There’s a mixed picture there,” he said. “We know from our commanders that some of the intelligence that his organization has provided us has saved American lives and enabled us to capture some key enemy targets.”
Responding to questions from Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., the committee’s top Democrat, Wolfowitz would only say that many Iraqi exiles opposed to Saddam Hussein had contacts with Iran, Iraq’s enemy in the 1980s.
“Nothing in Iraq is black and white. I don’t think I know of any figure we’re dealing with who hasn’t had in one way or another to compromise with the incredibly difficult circumstances of the last 35 years of that country’s history,” Wolfowitz said. “It’s not surprising that many of them – and Chalabi’s not the only one – made contacts with countries like Iran or Syria or others.”
Chalabi has blamed the CIA for his problems and denied wrongdoing. The CIA and Chalabi have been at odds for years.
“I am surprised that he seems to be the target, for many years, of particular animus from some parts of this government,” Wolfowitz said. “But on the other hand, there are aspects of his recent behavior that are puzzling to me.” He did not elaborate on what those activities were.
Wolfowitz said the Defense Department would provide the House panel with a classified accounting of how U.S. money supplied to Chalabi and his group was spent.
Also during his testimony, he maintained the view that al-Qaida and the government of Saddam Hussein had a mutually supportive relationship.
The claim – part of the Bush administration’s justification for invading Iraq – has been called into question again by the findings of the Sept. 11 commission, which found no evidence Iraq and al-Qaida had collaborated on terrorist attacks against the United States, but did describe some older reports of contacts.
“I don’t need proof of involvement in September 11th to be concerned that Saddam Hussein is providing mutual support to Al Qaida,” he said. “It seems to me it’s like saying if someone breeds Rottweilers and leaves the gate open but doesn’t tell the dog who to attack that he’s not operationally involved in the thing.”
Wolfowitz mentioned two pieces of information – intelligence reports of contacts between Saddam’s regime and al-Qaida operatives in the early 1990s, and the presence of the militant Abu Musab Zarqawi, an ally of Osama bin Laden, in Iraq.
The significance of both as evidence of a connection is in dispute.
Wolfowitz said Saddam’s regime “was a regime that survived with thousands of killers, and it was a regime that began making alliance with another group of killers, those people associated with bin Laden and particularly this man named Zarqawi, who has now emerged as probably the most significant author of suicide bombings in Iraq today.”