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Could Chalabi emerge as Iraq's prime minister?

Guest Blogger

Ahmad Chalabi’s reemergence on the Iraqi political scene ahead of Parliamentary elections is disconcerting to U.S. officials who worry about the ultimate ambitions of their one-time ally. American authorities and some Iraqis are concerned that Chalabi, a Shiite, is maneuvering to marginalize Sunnis and other secular Iraqis while simultaneously working to keep members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party from running for election. The big question – and fear among some observers – is that Chalabi could eventually emerge as Iraq’s prime minister. Aram Roston has followed Chalabi’s fortunes closely, pouring his research into “The Man Who Pushed America to War:The Extraordinary Life, Adventures, and Obsessions of Ahmad Chalabi,” which was recently released in paperback by Nation Books. I asked Roston to assess Chalabi’s chances of grabbing power in Iraq.

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Does Chalabi really stand a chance of ruling in Iraq? In spite of his lack of popularity, theoretically the answer is yes. He is a man who sticks to his goals long term, and this weekend’s election is just the start of whatever government is to come. Once the results are in, the U.S. Embassy, I’m told, does not expect the government horse-trading to be quick. “We don’t expect a new government until September,” one U.S. official told me. That’s five months away.

Here is how Chalabi might pull it off -- and as usual with Chalabi, it is a complicated plot. He’s running in Baghdad as a candidate of the Iraqi National Alliance, the pro-Iranian Shiite party that includes the two major Shiite religious movements. One is the Sadrist movement led by Moqtada al Sadr, the notorious anti-American cleric. The second is called ISCI, which is led by the Hakim family of religious Shiite clerics. ISCI works with Iran but has also cooperated closely with the United States.

Here is the trick: although the Sadrists and ISCI are both pro-Iranian Shiite religious groups, they hate each other, and their militias have in the past battled on the streets. If the party wins a majority or forms an alliance to take power, Chalabi, who is third on their list of candidates, might be able to jostle his way to the top position as the only one neither party would veto. One former senior Iraqi official told me this week that Chalabi’s “chances seem to be getting better!”

If Chalabi were to gain power it would be a shock to the United States What would he do in the improbable event that he got into office? Some things seem likely. First, he would likely not reconcile with Sunnis or reintegrate ex-Baathists, unless absolutely forced to do so. Second, he’d likely push for a stronger alliance with Iran. And third, as ever, he would brashly do whatever it takes to survive.

By Steven E. Levingston  |  March 4, 2010; 1:19 PM ET
Categories:  Guest Blogger  | Tags: chalabi and U.S., iraq elections.  
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Comments

Unlikely, but if it happened there would be rioting in the streets!

Posted by: iraqobserver1 | March 4, 2010 5:01 PM | Report abuse

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