Sources in Baghdad tell NBC News that as of this week American military and civilian officials have cut off all contact with controversial Iraqi politician Ahmad Chalabi, the former favorite of Washington's once powerful neoconservatives.
The reason, the sources say, is "unauthorized" contacts with Iran's government, an allegation Chalabi denies. Iran has been accused of arming and training rebel Shiite forces in Iraq.
Chalabi had been making a remarkable comeback in Iraq, but that may now be in question, American officials tell NBC News on condition of anonymity.
Chalabi had gained notoriety after his group provided false information to journalists and intelligence organizations about Saddam Hussein before the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
A former banker who was convicted of embezzlement in absentia in Jordan in 1992, Chalabi nevertheless was a key organizer of the Iraqi opposition and received substantial funding from the U.S. government in the 1990s and up till 2003, after the invasion. He had remarkable influence in Washington until several years ago.
After the U.S. invasion and the toppling of Saddam Hussein, Chalabi drifted in and out of favor with U.S. officials in Baghdad. In the 2005 Iraqi elections, he lost decisively, scoring less than 1 percent of the vote.
Since the invasion, reports of Chalabi's ties to Iran and his contacts with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards have at times been sore spots. The FBI once sought to interview him, sources say, about allegations that secret U.S. codes had been passed to Iran.
Since September 2007, however, American military officials and civilian officials working out of the U.S. Embassy had contacts with Chalabi. At that time he was installed as the head of a "services" committee for Baghdad that was to coordinate the restoration of services to the city's residents.
Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the Multi-National Forces-Iraq, even escorted Chalabi on a trip, on U.S. helicopters, to address reconstruction issues. And American officials attended meetings with him and supported his efforts.
That contact and all support has ended as of this week, American officials tell NBC News. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case publicly.
The U.S. Embassy had no comment, and a spokesman for the multinational force said any questions "related to Dr. Chalabi and his duties and status" should be addressed to the Iraqi government.
One spokesman for the government of Iraq said Chalabi had no government role and that the committees are not officially part of the government. Another said he was unaware of any change in Chalabi's status vis a vis the government.
A spokesman for Chalabi, Mohammed Hussein Al-Moussawi, insisted to NBC News that Chalabi continues to head two committees, operating out of a government office at the Ministries Council building.
"Dr. Chalabi was at his office," he said. In fact, Al-Moussawi said, on Tuesday "he held two meetings and continues his efforts." As for Chalabi's ties to Iran, Moussawi said, "his relations with the government of Iran are strictly diplomatic and in compliance with Iraqi government standards."
Kianne Sadeq is an NBC News Producer in Baghdad.
Aram Roston is an NBC News investigative producer and the author of the new book "The Man Who Pushed America to War: The Extraordinary Life, Adventures, and Obsessions of Ahmad Chalabi."
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