Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi who helped spur the U.S. invasion of his country, could play a role in seeing Iraq exit its current crisis although close ties he established with Iran pose an impediment, according to Paul Wolfowitz, a top American national security official when the war began.
“The man is a survivor,” Wolfowitz told Bloomberg Television in an interview scheduled to air this weekend. “That’s impressive. I think he wants to succeed in what he does, he’s smart; maybe he’ll figure out a way to do it.”
Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress supplied Wolfowitz and others in President George W. Bush’s administration with information that tied then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to Al-Qaeda and alleged he was developing weapons of mass destruction, the justification for the U.S. invasion in March 2003.
The information was later discredited and in May 2004, U.S. soldiers raided Chalabi’s house and offices in Iraq to investigate allegations of fraud and grand theft against him.
“We really actively went after him in 2004, and I think some of it may have been fair, some of it was unfair,” said Wolfowitz, 70. “We’ve put him in a situation where, in my view, he’s much too close to Iran,” he said.
In June 2004, shortly after Chalabi was targeted by the U.S. raid, he gave U.S. state secrets to Iran, according to a report by The New York Times.
“Chalabi is not an angel, no one in that system is an angel,” Wolfowitz said. “You have to be careful who you work with, but I think you need to try to work with everybody.”
With ISIS-led militants controlling swaths of Iraq and threatening to extend their gains, Wolfowitz said the U.S. should “at least arm” moderate insurgents in Syria who have been battling ISIS fighters in that country.
Wolfowitz rejected suggestions by analysts such as Leslie Gelb, former president of the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, that the U.S. should consider alliances with Russia, Iran and even Syria to stem ISIS advances.
“I think there’s huge danger in that,” he said.
Asked if the 2003 U.S. war against Iraq was a mistake, Wolfowitz said: “It’s possible. And it was costly; it was more costly I think than it needed to be if we had gotten the strategy right earlier on. We could have ended it sooner.”
He said that impetus for the invasion remains sound because, as evidenced now by the successes of ISIS, Iraq was a haven for terror groups.
“We needed to do something,” Wolfowitz said, arguing that Al-Qaeda, led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq, was operating in the country as early as January of 2002.
“Whether we had to do exactly what we did is, I think, open to more debate,” Wolfowitz said.
“But the idea that we could’ve lived for another 10 years with Saddam Hussein and that we’d be better off today if he were in power, I can’t agree with.”