May 31, 2004
Chalabi, Feith and Company: A Sordid
Dr. James J. Zogby ©
Arab American Institute
There's a story behind the story. And it is a messy tale of deceit, cronyism and
Ahmad Chalabi's apparent falling out with the U.S., and some recent reports
indicating that U.S. Undersecretary of Defense, Douglas Feith may be losing
influence in the Administration, represent only the latest chapter in their
sordid histories and relationship.
Back in 2001, when Feith's name was first mentioned for the number three
position in the Pentagon, I wrote two lengthy articles on his business dealings
and his ideology. Part of the Reagan-era Defense Department neo-conservative
group, Feith left government service and trading off of his political contacts,
he became a lobbyist and foreign agent, representing Turkey and some Israeli
interests as well. In 1996, Feith, a supporter of the Likud in Israel,
co-authored a paper for the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu advising
him to end the Oslo peace process. When Netanyahu signed the Wye Agreement,
Feith broke with him, accusing the Israeli leader of compromising away his
Chalabi has a long and well-known history of shady business dealings. His active
courting of pro-Israel and neo-conservative groups leading to the passage by
Congress of the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 (ILA), is also quite well-known.
So much for their separate histories.
Their relationship blossomed after Feith was confirmed by the Senate and assumed
his post at the Pentagon. Early on, he began, in earnest, to lay out the
justification for a war with Iraq. The funds that Congress mandated in the ILA,
had been frozen during the Clinton years. Early in the Bush term, they were
freed up to help finance Chalabi's activities. For his part, the Iraqi and his
group began to supply Feith's newly reorganized Defense Department with
"intelligence" on Saddam's weapons of mass destruction progress, and later on,
with "information" linking the Baghdad regime to al-Qaeda.
Both men were willing and eager accomplices of each other's missions. Both
wanted a U.S. war to topple the hated dictator and would, apparently, go to any
length to make that happen.
It was Chalabi, among others, who also sold Feith both on the ease with which
the regime could be removed and the uprising of support for the U.S. that would
immediately follow. It was assessments such as these that provided Feith's
planning office with logic that justified their fatally flawed post-war
But Chalabi's fabrications didn't stop there. Even during the 1990s, it is now
known, he was promising the war's supporters that his post-Saddam Iraq would
establish diplomatic and trade relations with Israel and the U.S. He and his
supporters were, at one point, quoted in the U.S., to the effect that after
Saddam, the Russians and French would be out, replaced by U.S. companies who
would be contracted to exploit Iraq's bountiful oil resources. More quietly,
Chalabi was even promising both Israelis and their U.S. supporters that not only
would the new Iraq trade with Israel, but it would resurrect the Iraq-Israel
pipeline for oil export. This, of course, was music to their ears.
Shortly after the war began, Chalabi, despite strenuous objection from the State
Department and the CIA, was airlifted with his supporters into Iraq. He
immediately began plans to establish a power base in his newly liberated
Appointed by the U.S. to a position on the Iraqi Governing Council, Chalabi
assumed the role of director of its economics and finance committee. He was able
to place his close relatives and other allies in key ministries and
directorships of institutions dealing with Iraq's banking, finance and oil
The spoils of war were now within his reach.
One of his nephews, Salem Chalabi, chose not to hold a government position.
Instead, he established the Iraq International Law Group (IILG), which describes
itself as "your professional gateway to the new Iraq." Assisting Salem in
setting up the IILG was a partner Marc Zell (the IILG's website has been
registered in Zell's name). Zell is an Israeli settler of the Gush Emunim (Bloc
of the Faithful) stripe. Here the plot thickens.
Zell had for many years been Feith's partner in their Washington-Tel Aviv law
firm, Feith and Zell (FANDZ). FANDZ had been set up when Feith left government
to pursue the work of a "foreign agent" representing Turkey and some Israeli
Following the Baghdad opening of the IILG, Zell soon opened, in the U.S., an
office for Zell, Goldberg & Co., which promises to assist "American companies in
their relations with the U.S. government in connection with Iraq's
reconstruction projects." It is interesting to note that Zell, Goldberg still
uses the website FANDZ, the site of the old Feith and Zell firm. So when Zell
boasts his connections to government, businesses know exactly what is meant.
In the relatively short period of time since the fall of the Ba`ath Party
regime, IILG and Zell, Goldberg have facilitated contracts in the tens, possibly
hundreds of millions of dollars.
Salem Chalabi incidentally has also been appointed by the Coalition Provisional
Authority to head the Iraqi tribunal that will investigate and prosecute the
crimes Saddam and his cohorts committed against the Iraqi people. His uncle is
meanwhile railing against the former regime's corruption and demanding the right
to investigate profiteering and kick-backs he alleges occurred in the UN's food
for oil program.
Surely Saddam should be tried for his crimes and the people of Iraq have a right
to have lost revenues restored. But for this effort to have credibility, surely
the Iraqi people deserve to be represented by judges and investigators who
themselves are credible.
In any case, for reasons unrelated to this sordid web of corruption and
cronyism, it appears that Feith and his friend and co-conspirator Ahmad Chalabi
have fallen on hard times.
Feith, for example, has been implicated in the Abu Ghraib debacle. It was his
office that had general oversight over post-war planning (and pre-war
propaganda). And it was apparently his office that dismissed the applicability
of the Geneva Conventions to the detained of Iraqi prisoners. Growing
displeasure with his work in this regard (Gen. Tommy Franks has been quoted as
calling Feith "the. . .stupidest guy on the face of the earth.") has caused him
to be sidelined. There are also hints he may soon step down from his post.
For his part, Chalabi recently caused some irritation by proudly boasting that
it didn't matter that the intelligence he provided the Pentagon was faulty,
because it got the job done. He has also angered his neo-con and pro-Israeli
supporters by apparently turning his back on commitments he made to them. He is
also now in trouble, having been accused of providing important secrets to
Iranian intelligence. His home was recently raided by U.S. and Iraqi forces.
What is intriguing is that in all the recent U.S. media coverage of the changing
fortunes of both Feith and Chalabi, there is very little mention made of the
questionable business dealings by those closely connected to them. Only a
handful of reporters have actually dug deeply into this story.
Both Feith and Chalabi may be facing some difficulties, but don't count them out
quite yet. Feith may leave government, but the last time he left the Pentagon,
he turned his departure into business connections and a handsome profit. And
Chalabi, the wily manipulator, also has a record of rebounding from set-backs
that have marked his past.
With Zell and Salem in business, both Feith and Ahmad have a place to go. The
final chapter in this sordid tale has yet to be written.
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