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Last Updated: Friday, 21 May, 2004, 13:16 GMT 14:16 UK
Analysis: Rise and fall of Chalabi
By Roger Hardy
BBC Middle East analyst

The man once promoted by Washington as a possible leader of Iraq, Ahmed Chalabi, has suffered a stunning reversal of fortune.

Members of Iraq's Governing Council have expressed shock over Thursday's raid on the home and offices of one of their colleagues - the controversial politician Ahmed Chalabi.

Ahmed Chalabi
Chalabi appears determined to play to the full the role of the aggrieved patriot
Mr Chalabi has denounced the raid, which he said was carried out by American agents and Iraqi police, as politically motivated.

But just what are Mr Chalabi and his colleagues accused of?

American officials are still not commenting publicly on why Mr Chalabi's home and offices were raided.

They say - implausibly - that the raid was the work of the Iraq police and was nothing to do with them.

Charge list

Off the record, however, in briefings in Baghdad, they have told journalists that members of Mr Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress (INC) - but not apparently Mr Chalabi himself - stand accused of kidnapping, torture, embezzlement and misuse of government property.

Influential people in the White House, the Pentagon and Congress saw him as an Iraqi George Washington
This last charge seems to refer, in part, to the alleged theft of cars from the finance ministry by one of Mr Chalabi's associates.

However, there is also a tussle under way over documents in the Iraqi National Congress' possession relating to an alleged financial scandal surrounding the United Nations' former oil-for-food programme for Iraq.

More ominously, there are allegations - again off the record - that Mr Chalabi or his officials have passed sensitive US intelligence to Iran.

This charge first appeared in Newsweek some weeks ago, but has been revived with a report on the US television channel, CBS.

'Turning on ally'

Ahmed Chalabi himself scoffs at all these accusations. He insists the Americans have turned against him because he is highly critical of their plans for the transfer of power to an interim Iraqi government at the end of June.

Troops outside Ahmed Chalabi's home in Baghdad
US officials say the raid on Chalabi's residence was not their doing
He argues the new government must have full sovereignty, not the limited sovereignty the Americans are suggesting. He is also critical of Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN special envoy charged with helping create the interim government.

The INC leader has suffered a remarkable reversal of fortunes.

Just over a year ago, when US-led forces overthrew the Saddam Hussein government, Ahmed Chalabi was America's best-known Iraqi ally.

He was, to be sure, controversial. Many in the State Department and the CIA were wary of him - unconvinced he always told the truth or had a genuine support base in Iraq.

'Iraqi George Washington'

Yet influential people in the White House, the Pentagon and Congress saw him as an Iraqi George Washington and as the man best placed to lead a free Iraq that would be democratic, business-friendly, pro-American - even pro-Israeli.

Now his former friends are shunning him.

The Pentagon has stopped paying the INC some $330,000 a month. And Mr Chalabi has suffered the indignity of having his home raided and of being accused of a long list of crimes.

So is this the end of his political career?

It seems certain he will not have a role in the interim government.

Nevertheless, it would be unwise to write him off.

For one thing, as he showed at his angry press conference in Baghdad on Thursday, he is determined to play to the full the role of the aggrieved patriot.

For another, he still has friends and relatives in positions of influence in Baghdad.

The danger for the Americans is that he could make trouble for them as the sensitive transition period gets under way.

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