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Chalabi’s defeat puts U.S. friends in quandary

Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi appears to have suffered a humiliating defeat in the recent Iraqi election — presenting a quandary to his U.S. supporters. Do they continue to back him, even though he is now alleging fraud in the election, or go with the White House view of the  historic vote?  NBC's Aram Roston reports.
Iraq's Deputy PM Ahmad Chalabi talks to his aides in Basra
Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Chalabi talks to his aides during a break while campaigning for Iraq's parliamentary elections in the city of Basra on Dec. 13. Atef Hassan / Reuters file
/ Source: NBC News

Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi appears to have suffered a humiliating defeat at the recent Iraq polls, according to the uncertified preliminary results.

The news comes just a month after Chalabi had conducted a tour of Washington in an effort to patch up his tattered image in America. Paperwork shows that in November Chalabi’s Washington representative hired a powerful D.C. lobbying firm.

The election results in Iraq may present Chalabi’s ardent U.S. supporters with a quandary: Chalabi, as well as other losing candidates, is alleging fraud in the election, even though the Bush administration hailed the vote as a historic step for democracy in Iraq.

Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress (INC) was not part of the coalition, but 35 political groups on Thursday issued a joint statement threatening to boycott Iraq’s new legislature if complaints about tainted voting are not reviewed by an international body.

Poor showing for the man who ‘liberated’ Iraq
Preliminary results in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad indicate that Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress scored a minuscule 0.36 percent of the votes.

Out of almost 2.5 million voters in Baghdad, only 8,645 voted for Chalabi.

In the Shiite city of Basra, the results indicate he had an equally dismal showing of 0.34 percent of the vote.

In the violent Sunni province of Anbar, 113 people voted for him.

During the election, Chalabi’s campaign posters proclaimed, "We Liberated Iraq."

The reference was to Chalabi’s role in pushing the United States toward war against Saddam Hussein. Over the years, Chalabi’s group received tens of millions of dollars from the CIA and the State Department.

In that role, before 2003, Chalabi had been funded by the U.S. Congress, through the Iraq Liberation Act, and enjoyed the support of neoconservatives in the United States.

Change of status
Although initially Chalabi seemed to have close allies in the Bush administration, that appeared to change after the war.

With U.S. forces ensconced in Baghdad, Chalabi and the administration apparently parted ways.

He and his supporters seemed to work in opposition to some U.S. initiatives in Iraq. For example they often were at odds with Ambassador Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator if Iraq, and with Ayad Allawi, the first Iraqi prime minister.

His supporters in the United States were often torn between their regard for Chalabi and their loyalty to the Bush administration, some insiders say.

"They like the American administration, but they support Ahmed Chalabi,” said one expert on Iraq who asked for anonymity because of close connections with the neoconservative movement. “They don’t want to turn against the administration,” said the expert, but when the White House alienates Chalabi, “they believe it is making a mistake."

Still lobbying American friends
Chalabi appears to have shored up his relationship with the U.S. administration. Just last month, as deputy prime minister of Iraq he toured the United States, meeting with Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Also last month, a representative of Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress who works out of Iraq’s embassy in Washington hired a powerful lobbying firm, which helped with Chalabi’s U.S. trip.

The firm, BKSH & Associates, is the lobbying vehicle of Republican insider Charles Black and registered with the Justice Department as an agent for the INC's Entefadh Qanbar.

Lobbyist Riva Levinson wrote in an e-mail to NBC News of concerns about fraud in the Iraqi elections. She wrote that "many parties, including the INC, are concerned about fraud with dozens of cases now being actively investigated."

This would not be the first time Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress have used influential K Street lobbyists.

BKSH has longstanding ties to Chalabi that preceded the war. The firm was paid, initially, with funds from the Iraqi Liberation Act and was involved in promoting Chalabi’s cause as he pushed for the overthrow of Saddam.