I’ve been writing lately about the decision to bar 511 candidates from the upcoming election in Iraq, which has caused an uproar on the editorial pages in New York and Washington. It also seems to have prompted Vice President Joe Biden to pay a visit to Baghdad. The ban has been aimed predominantly at secular and Sunni politicians, raising more questions about Iraq’s already suspect democratic future.
The driving force behind the ban is Iraq’s Accountability and Justice Commission, formerly known as the De-Baathification Committee. Two fellows seem to be calling the shots at the commission. The first is Ahmed Chalabi–once a CIA and Pentagon chum, who supplied a chunk of the fictitious intelligence to his Beltway friends before the 2003 invasion. The second is Ali Faisal Al-Lami, man who spent a year in U.S. custody for his alleged role in a 2008 bombing in Sadr City that killed 2 American soldiers, two U.S. Embassy employees, and six Iraqis. (Al-Lami denies any involvement, and I get to the Huffington Post after the jump.)
American officials now claim that both Chalabi and al-Alami are Iranian agents. The theory: the two are essentially acting on behalf of Tehran to get secular and Sunni political opponents disbarred to ensure that an Iran-friendly, Shiite Islamist-dominated government solidifies its hold in Baghdad. (Read the Washington Post story here that lays it out.)
Besides being an alleged Iranian agent with a seat on the Accountability and Justice Commission, Al-Lami has another interesting note on his resume: he wrote a guest blog for the Huffington Post, published on September 29, 2009.
The headline: “My Testimony on ‘Enhanced Interrogation Techniques.”’
It’s a fascinating and disturbing read. In it, Al-Lami claims that he was kidnapped by the Americans at the Baghdad International Airport in August of 2008(a private security company called Global did the dirty work), blindfolded, put on an airplane, kept in a secret prison, tortured, and received threats against his wife and children. He was also asked to denounce his colleague, Ahmed Chalabi, as, one suspects, an Iranian agent.
In Al-Lami’s account, General David Petraeus even makes an appearance via video monitor:
Then I was flown to another secret location where I was put in front of a TV monitor with a camera and microphone. General Petraeus appeared on the monitor and addressed me by my full name. Reading from a paper the General leveled charges against me. He requested me to “cooperate” with the interrogators and all charges would be dropped and told me “your problems will be solved by cooperating fully with the interrogators.”
After close to a year, he was released from detention. His tagline on the HuffPo piece is “executive director at the De-Baathification Commitee.” (The post doesn’t mention what the Americans were accusing him of–involvement in the bombing in Sadr City.)
Two caveats: despite my attempt at a provocative and link-bait worthy headline, I’m not at all faulting the Huffington Post for running Al-Lami’s piece. It’s actually quite an incredible read–especially the parts about Petraeus, Chalabi, and how Al-Lami says the interrogators tore up pictures of his family in front of him. In fact, it gives some perspective on what his motivations might be in trying to get these candidates disbarred–he clearly no longer views America as an ally to Iraq, or at least his vision of Iraq, and it shouldn’t be shocking that he’s working against U.S. foreign policy goals there.
Also, Al-Lami’s case reflects just how messy and morally compromised most of the major players in the Iraqi government are. All sides likely have blood on their hands, and if you’re going to say Al-Lami is a criminal or a militant or a terrorist or whatever, as U.S. diplomatic and military officials have said, then you have to admit that there are probably criminals and terrorists on the list of candidates that Al-Lami wants banned, too. (Not mention the host of other minor league war criminals who occupy high ranking positions in the Iraqi government, albeit on the winning (Shiite) side of the civil war. )
Second caveat: it makes sense to be skeptical of the U.S. government’s claim that Chalabi and Al-Lami are Iranian agents. Maybe they’re working for Tehran directly, maybe they’re not. Maybe they’ve judged that Iran will be a more helpful friend for the time being, and are just pursuing their own interests, playing one side off the other, like The Dude in the Big Lebowski. (“Brother Shamus? Like an Irish monk?”) Certainly, Iran is a helpful bogeyman for the Americans to throw around. It’s also worth considering that Chalabi was essentially seen as an American agent until we soured on him in 2004. So there’s always the possibility, when all is said and done, that a smooth player like Chalabi(and Al-Lami) could become American allies again at some point in the future, if such a move is seen as expedient for both sides.
But Al-Lami hit on one of the stranger ironies to have come out of this election debacle–that Chalabi, the guy who helped the Americans start the war, is now seen as threatening the vision America has for Iraq’s future. As Al-Lami wrote:
I have come to realize that without Dr. Ahmad Chalabi, Saddam Hussein would have never been brought down… Also I believed that if it was not for Ahmad Chalabi, there will be no sovereignty for Iraq… Also it should be realized if it was not for Ahmad Chalabi the shedding of blood between Iraq’s different sectors will continue.
Anyway, HuffPo should ask him to write another detailed an revealing post soon–I’d like to get an open an account of what the Accountability and Justice Commission has been up to lately!