He was the trusted ally of administration hawks and fed them bogus information that frightened America into a war.
Now, Ahmed Chalabi is being welcomed again by his White House friends: Vice President Cheney, National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.
Protestors also greeted the controversial former Iraqi exile. Yesterday, they showed up outside the neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute, a group that hosted a Chalabi speech.
In the speech, Chalabi declared, "Iraq is now at the threshold of a new era."
But five years before the Iraq war, the Pentagon paid his exile group $39 million for intelligence about Saddam. In turn, Chalabi produced defectors who claimed Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and wanted to go nuclear.
The CIA was skeptical, but the White House took Chalabi's claims and made references to them in administration speeches.
At VFW convention in August 26, 2002 Cheney said, "We now know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons."
In the build up to war, the claims also got splashed on the front page of The New York Times. The paper's editors say reporter Judy Miller relied heavily on Chalabi and his allies in the vice president's office, including Scooter Libby, Cheney’s former chief of staff.
All had the same talking points. Chalabi swore U.S. troops would be greeted as liberators.
Vice President Cheney again echoed Chalabi’s sentiments. In a March 16, 2003 taping of “Meet The Press,” he said, "my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators."
Chalabi's sources said Iraq possessed mobile germ weapons factories. President Bush mentioned the factories publicly and said, "These are designed to produce germ warfare agents, and can be moved from place to a place to evade inspectors."
A year into the war, with no WMD, an insurgency getting worse, and indications Chalabi had gamed the Bush administration, just the mention of his name became a touchy subject for supporters.
In May 2004, while Chalabi was bucking White House plans for Iraq's new government, U.S. forces raided his home, alleging Chalabi was an Iranian spy.
But today Chalabi stands as a powerful Iraqi political leader.
He is the secular politician most trusted by religious Shiites. He also gets along well with the Kurds and the minority Sunnis.
When it comes to what happened before the war, Chalabi replied, “As for the fact that I deliberately misled the American government, this is an urban myth.”
The key word may be "deliberate," which implies Chalabi actually bothered to examine the credibility of his defectors or their claims. By most accounts, Chalabi did nothing before passing them along to his White House allies.
And when pressed, Chalabi refuses to apologize.
"It is not useful for me to comment on it,” said Chalabi. “We are not engaged in this kind of debate in Iraq."
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