A top Iraqi is target of raid by authorities

Posted in Iraq | 21-May-04 | Author: Dexter Filkins and Kirk Semple| Source: The New York Times

Chalabi, ex-favorite of Pentagon, has documents seized 

BAGHDAD Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi politician once favored by the Pentagon but now at odds with the American authorities, said Thursday that an American-led force of Iraqi police officers raided his offices and home earlier in the day and seized computers and documents.

''My house was attacked,'' Chalabi said during a televised news conference in Baghdad. ''We avoided by a hair's breadth a clash with my guards.''

Witnesses said the raiding party had involved about 100 people, including officials they believed to be from the FBI and the CIA. American soldiers were clearly in view in the area afterward.

A spokesman for the United States occupation authority acknowledged that there had been American involvement in the operation but asserted that it had been planned and led by the Iraqi police.

''It was an Iraqi-led investigation, it was an Iraqi-led raid, it was the result of Iraqi arrest warrants,'' said Dan Senor, the chief spokesman for L. Paul Bremer 3rd, the top American administrator in Iraq.

Senor asserted that Bremer ''did not know the operation was occurring today'' and was notified only after it had been completed.

Still, with Iraq under the command of American civilian and military authorities in the absence of an Iraqi government, it seemed unlikely that the Iraqi police would have mounted such an operation against Chalabi, a member of the interim Iraqi Governing Council and until recently a favored ally of the Bush administration, without the knowledge, consent and a significant level of participation by American officials.

Senor did say that the raids had been aimed at ''individuals'' who work for the Iraqi National Congress, Chalabi's group, although he said the operation had nothing to do with investigations into alleged corruption in the prewar United Nations oil-for-food program, one of the reasons offered by Chalabi.

The U.S. military authorities, meanwhile, stood by their account of an American attack that killed 40 Iraqis near the Syrian border. Iraqis say that the Americans strafed civilians at a wedding party.

At the United Nations, Paul Volcker, the head of the United Nations oil-for-food inquiry, conceded that there was a struggle in Baghdad over access to the program's records, but he said he knew nothing about Wednesday's raid or whether it was connected to the oil-for- food program. ''I have no idea what documents were taken from Chalabi's home, but if they are relevant documents, we'd like to see them obviously,'' Volcker said.

The program records, he added, ''are of interest to a lot of people, and they are of interest to us because we want access to them that is unfiltered and unbiased.''

Reporters who entered Chalabi's office compound after the raid found a scene of destruction ' furniture overturned, doors broken down, documents strewn across the floor and a framed photograph of Chalabi smashed. Aides to Chalabi said members of the raiding party had helped themselves to food and beverages from the refrigerator.

Chalabi himself held up a framed picture with its glass cracked ' the work of the raiding party, he said ' and accused American soldiers and Iraqi police officers of ransacking and ''vandalizing'' his office.

Chalabi said the American occupation authorities had ordered the raid. He said they were angry about his recent criticism of the coalition authority and of the Bush administration's plans for the transition back to Iraqi governance.

He enumerated several possible reasons for the raids, including differences with the American authorities over how to investigate allegations of corruption in the United Nations' oil-for-food program in Iraq, and over how much power Iraqis should assume when the country regains sovereignty beginning on June 30.

''When America treats its friends this way, then they are in big trouble,'' he said. ''My relationship with the Coalition Provisional Authority now is nonexistent.''

According to Chalabi's aides, the searchers had been looking for two men close to the Iraqi politician, one of whom is Chalabi's security chief and presides over a vast intelligence network.

''Bremer,'' one Chalabi aide said, ''has lost his mind.''

Dan Senor, chief spokesman for Bremer, said the raids had been aimed at ''individuals'' who work for the Iraqi National Congress but had had nothing to do with the investigations into the oil-for-food program.

Whatever the purpose, the raids illuminated a huge rupture in what had been the Bush administration's most important personal and political relationship in Iraq. Chalabi, a longtime exile leader and now a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, played a crucial role in persuading the administration that Saddam Hussein had to be removed from power.

But he has since become a lightning rod for critics of the Bush administration, who say the United States relied on him too heavily for prewar intelligence that has since proved faulty.

In recent weeks, the relationship has further soured as Chalabi has openly criticized Bremer and has advocated a more expansive definition of the sovereignty that Iraq is scheduled to assume on June 30, including full Iraqi control of its armed forces and oil revenue.

In recent months, Chalabi has also criticized Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations official who is organizing an Iraqi government to take control of the country on July 1 and whose efforts have been embraced by the White House. And he has objected to Bremer's efforts to leave the governing council out of the investigation of the oil-for-food program.

Aides close to Chalabi say the animosity between him and Bremer has grown so severe that the Iraqi has taken to skipping meetings of the Iraqi Governing Council that Bremer attends.

The Iraqi National Congress disclosed earlier this week that the American government had decided to halt monthly payments of $335,000 to the group.

Chalabi's group has received at least $27 million in U.S. financing in the past four years, an Iraqi National Congress official said this week. That includes $335,000 a month as part of a classified program through the Defense Intelligence Agency, since the summer of 2002, to help gather intelligence in Iraq.

Internal reviews by the United States government have found that much of the information provided as part of the classified program before American forces invaded Iraq last year was useless, misleading or even fabricated.

Dexter Filkins reported from Baghdad for this article and Kirk Semple reported from New York.