Did the Iranians Out Chalabi?
John Brady Kiesling, the US diplomat who resigned his post in Greece March of last year to protest the impending Iraq war, has an interesting letter in the Financial Times saying the Iranians were the source of Chalabi's troubles. Chalabi recently fell out of favor with the US Government when it became known that he has passed sensive top secret information onto the Iranians that the US had broken the Iranian secret communication codes. One of the strange pieces in the Chalabi story was why after he told them that the US had broken their codes the Iranian who received this information used this same code to inform Terhan, and seemingly incidently, the US listeners. Kiesling believes that this was done on purpose.
Sir, Regarding Ahmad Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress, the US seems indebted to the government of Iran for an elegant bit of diplomacy. Iran's Baghdad intelligence chief incriminated Mr Chalabi as an Iranian informant, transmitting Mr Chalabi's alleged revelations via the very communications link Mr Chalabi had just told him the US could intercept.
It is safest to assume that this gaffe was deliberate: the Iranians exploited the US's allergy to Iran to neutralise a shared problem. The leak ended a disastrous 18-month stalemate during which Paul Bremer, the US administrator, had been unable to impose a coherent Iraqi reconstruction policy, because Mr Chalabi had the Washington connections to thwart most concessions to Iraqi reality.
The Chalabi fiasco underscores, paradoxically, that Iran is the US's necessary partner in Iraq. Iranians see a defanged, stable, unified Iraq as a national interest worth considerable toil and treasure - preferably the US's rather than their own - to achieve. Iranians enjoyed America's floundering in Iraq, but only up to a point. Mr Chalabi may have promised the Iranians the moon, but the Iranians knew he was no more trustworthy as their partner than as the US's.
Perhaps, as Mr Chalabi insists, he is innocent of any intelligence leaks, and Iran burned him to protect the real source. If the coalition is wise, it should not ask too many questions about Mr Chalabi's fall from grace. If the Iranians are wise, they will find a new way for America to read their intelligence traffic.
President George W. Bush's lack of curiosity about Saddam Hussein's Iraq proved catastrophic to all concerned. Prudent states spoon-feed Washington a healthy amount of reliable information as the corrective to any lingering imperial fantasies.
Iranian mischief in Iraq has been mercifully limited so far. We should reflect on Iran's 3,000-year history as a balancing imperial power. Mr Chalabi's fall is a reminder that America is no match for the Middle East in the art of devious diplomacy.
Credulous ourselves, we should confine ourselves to that style of high-minded diplomacy in which US inability to lie plausibly is an asset rather than a handicap.
John Brady Kiesling, Athens, Greece (Former US Embassy Political Counsellor)