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Iraq: Chalabi Begins High-Level U.S. Meetings, Dismisses Charges On Intelligence

Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi in Washington on 9 November (AFP) Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi has begun a series of high-level meetings in Washington that are expected to focus on reconstruction issues for Iraq. But his visit also comes at a time of renewed scrutiny of the U.S. administration's handling of prewar intelligence regarding Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities, in which Chalabi played a role. Chalabi yesterday dismissed allegations he deliberately misled the U.S. government -- calling them an "urban myth" -- and denied separate charges that he shared intelligence with Iran, endangering U.S. national security.

Washington, 10 November 2005 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. officials say Chalabi's visit should be regarded simply as a consultation with a senior Iraqi government figure.

"Well, Deputy Prime Minister Chalabi is one of a number of elected leaders who have visited Washington in recent months, and we believe it's very important to work closely with the Iraqi government and their leaders to advance democracy, build prosperity, and improve security for the Iraqi people," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters. "And that's what we're doing."

A New Chapter?

But Chalabi's return to Washington is also seen as rehabilitation for a man facing a federal U.S. investigation, as well as allegations that he knowingly provided faulty intelligence on Iraqi weapons programs to U.S. officials to force the ouster of Saddam Hussein.

Chalabi met Condoleezza Rice and national security adviser Stephen Hadley yesterday. Later, he addressed Iraq's reconstruction challenges and his role before the war in a talk at the American Enterprise Institute, a public-policy think tank.

The Iraqi deputy prime minister dismissed questions that, in his role as the leader of the Iraqi National Congress, he had prodded the Bush administration toward war in Iraq on false grounds:

"We are sorry for every American life that is lost in Iraq, and I regret every loss of American lives that happened in Iraq subsequent to the end of fighting with Saddam," Chalabi said. "And as for the fact that I deliberately misled the American government, this is an urban myth."

He responded to repeated questions about his prewar role by citing the findings of the Robb-Silverman Commission, an independent U.S. panel that reported earlier this year on the capabilities of the U.S. intelligence community. In its report, the commission said the Iraqi National Congress had had a minimal impact on U.S. assessments of Saddam Hussein's weapons-of-mass-destruction capabilities.

FBI Probe Continues

Chalabi also denied allegations lodged nearly 18 months ago that he passed U.S. encryption codes to Iran.

"It is not true," Chalabi said. "I did not pass any information to Iran that compromised any national security interest of the United States, and I did not pass -- for the 'nth' time I say it -- information about codes to Iran. I have no knowledge of U.S. codes or their statuses."

Chalabi is still under investigation by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation for that case.

Relations With Iran

But Chalabi cited the importance of Iraq's relations with Iran, noting their long border and the common religion -- Shi'a Islam -- shared by majorities in both countries. He said Iran is unlikely to seek influence in Iraqi affairs in what he called "a disproportionate way."

"The Iranians are smart and competent. They realize that [meddling] is a dead end," Chalabi said. "I believe we can persuade them the best outcome for them in Iraq is to have a country that is democratic, stable, and has a transparent, friendly relationship with Iran. And I believe this position will not find opposition in the United States government."

Chalabi plays a key role in Iraq's energy sector in the interim government and is expected to be a leading figure in the government that emerges from national elections scheduled for December.

During his current visit to Washington, he will also meet with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Treasury Secretary John Snow, and top officials in the U.S. Congress.

(Mohsen Vakili of Radio Farda contributed to this report.)

RFE/RL Iraq Report

RFE/RL Iraq Report

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