Death and Betrayal in Iraq

Where Plan A Left Ahmad Chalabi,” by Dexter Filkins, New York Times Magazine, 5 November 2006,

Iraq War supporters who are disenchanted with an incompetent American occupation are popping out of the wordwork — David Frum, Ralph Peters, Richard Perle, and of course myself. Now the magainze of the Times reports that Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi most responsible for that country’s democracy, isn’t happy either:

“The real culprit in all this is Wolfowitz,” Chalabi says, referring to his erstwhile backer, the former deputy secretary of defense, Paul Wolfowitz. “They chickened out. The Pentagon guys chickened out.”

Chalabi still considers Wolfowitz a friend, so he proceeds carefully. America’s big mistake, Chalabi maintains, was in failing to step out of the way after Hussein’s downfall and let the Iraqis take charge. The Iraqis, not the Americans, should have been allowed to take over immediately — the people who knew the country, who spoke the language and, most important, who could take responsibility for the chaos that was unfolding in the streets. An Iraqi government could have acted harshly, even brutally, to regain control of the place, and the Iraqis would have been without a foreigner to blame. They would have appreciated the firm hand. There would have been no guerrilla insurgency or, if there was, a small one that the new Iraqi government could have ferreted out and crushed on its own. An Iraqi leadership would have brought Moktada al-Sadr, the populist cleric, into the government and house-trained him. The Americans, in all likelihood, could have gone home. They certainly would have been home by now.

“It was a puppet show!” Chalabi exclaims again, shifting on the couch. “The worst of all worlds. We were in charge, and we had no power. We were blamed for everything the Americans did, but we couldn’t change any of it.”

It’s three and a half years later now. More than 2,800 Americans are dead; more than 3,000 Iraqis die each month. The anarchy seems limitless. In May 2004, American and Iraqi agents even raided Chalabi’s home in Baghdad. He has been denounced by Bremer and by Bush and accused of passing secrets to America’s enemy, Iran. At the heart of the American decision to take over and run Iraq, Chalabi now concludes, lay a basic contempt for Iraqis, himself included.

Just as we delayed sentencing Saddam Hussein to years, but it happened anyway, so the independence and safety of the free people of Iraq is coming on.