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Profile: Ahmed Chalabi

Ahmed Chalabi

Ahmed Chalabi's appointment to the new Iraqi government is something of a revival for a man once touted at the Pentagon as a future president of Iraq.

During 2004 the Shia politician saw his home and offices raided and an arrest warrant issued amid accusations of counterfeiting.

Yet he has returned to prominence as one of two deputy prime ministers in Ibrahim Jaafari's new cabinet.

He will also serve as interim oil minister while negotiations continue over a permanent appointment.

Mr Chalabi, who had the ear of many in Washington during the run-up to war, fell out with his former patrons as the invasion of Iraq turned to messy occupation.

There were whispers from Washington that Mr Chalabi, a Shia, had all along been duping the Americans by spying for the Iranians.

It appeared that he was being sidelined by Washington because he was one of the sources for intelligence about Iraq's weapons of destruction capability that is now viewed as faulty.

His fall from grace appeared complete in August 2004, when Mr Chalabi and his nephew Salem Chalabi had arrest warrants issued against them while they were outside Iraq.

But those charges, relating to alleged counterfeiting activities, were quietly dropped by an Iraqi judge the following month.

'Perfect candidate'

The fact that he is Shia - like the majority in Iraq - secular and pro-Western had made Ahmed Chalabi look like the perfect candidate to replace Saddam Hussein in many American eyes.

He is believed to have been instrumental in providing some of the intelligence - flawed intelligence as it appears to be now - used to support the case for the war.

And after decades in exile, Mr Chalabi was one of the first Iraqis to be flown by the Pentagon to Iraq during the 2003 invasion, supposedly to allow him to consolidate his political base in the country.

But it quickly emerged that Iraqis did not trust this favourite of the Americans, preferring their own religious and tribal leaders, many of whom had stuck it out with the populace through the dark days of Saddam.

Indeed Mr Chalabi's past has continued to haunt him, undermining his credibility in the eyes of ordinary Iraqis.

Chequered career

Born in 1945 in Baghdad to a wealthy banking family, Mr Chalabi left Iraq in 1956 and lived mainly in the US and London, except for a period in the mid-1990s when he tried to organise an uprising in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq.

The venture ended in failure with hundreds of deaths.

Soon after, the INC was routed from northern Iraq after Saddam Hussein's troops overran its base in Irbil.

A number of party officials were executed and others - including Mr Chalabi - fled the country.

Mr Chalabi has been particularly dogged by the collapse of a private bank he established in Jordan in the late 1980s, with the help of King Hussein's brother, Crown Prince Hassan.

CHALABI: KEY DATES
1945 Born in Baghdad
1956 Leaves Iraq
1990 Petra Bank collapses
1992 Founds INC
1995 INC offensive against Iraqi army fails
1996 Flees Iraq after INC base in Irbil overrun by Saddam Hussein's troops
2003 Returns to Iraq

Petra Bank, which became a leading private bank in the country, collapsed in 1990 amid allegations of financial impropriety by Mr Chalabi. Two years later, he was convicted of embezzlement and sentenced in absentia by a Jordanian court to 22 years in prison with hard labour.

Mr Chalabi protests his innocence and has always maintained the case was an Iraqi plot to frame him.

While living in London, where he was granted British citizenship, Mr Chalabi founded the INC, a broad coalition of opposition forces committed to establishing democracy in Iraq.

A seasoned lobbyist in London and Washington who studied mathematics at the University of Chicago and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Mr Chalabi has been described as controversial, charismatic, determined, crafty, cunning and ambitious.

He previously discounted the possibility he would take a role in any future government.

"I am not seeking any positions - my job will end with the liberation of Iraq from Saddam's rule," he said before the start of the US-led war.

He did not attend the first US-brokered meeting of Iraqi representatives to start shaping a future government of the country, sending a representative instead.

However, for the Arab media, Mr Chalabi was the epitome of an American stooge, a man who sold his soul to the devil.

Mr Chalabi was also blamed for advising the Provisional Coalition Authority to dissolve the Iraqi army and the Baath party - two decisions that were criticised by many as responsible for the breakdown in law and order and alienating large sectors of Iraqi society.

He has always denied being sidelined, but the first public sign of a possible rift between the Pentagon and Mr Chalabi came in mid-May.

American officials announced then that the monthly payment of more than $300,000 to Mr Chalabi's party, the Iraqi National Congress, was to be stopped.

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