Patrick Cockburn writes: The ablest candidate to be prime minister is Ahmed Chalabi on the grounds that he is intelligent, energetic, an excellent organiser and has a good understanding of what has gone wrong. Several times in the past couple of years he told me with complete accuracy that the Iraqi security services were so rotted by corruption that they would speedily disintegrate if they had to fight a real war.
The very fact that Chalabi would be good as prime minister of Iraq does not mean that he will get the job. Listening to conversations among politically active Iraqis about the next prime minister, I notice that they all focus on how many players each candidate gets on with – the different power centres in the Shia, Sunni and Kurdish communities and foreign states such as the US, Iran and the Sunni neighbours – and not whether a new PM could reorganise the army before the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) attacks Baghdad.
Commending Chalabi and his abilities invariably causes dismay in the West – though not in Iraq these days – because he has acquired an impressive array of enemies. At different moments Chalabi has been high up on the most-hated lists of the US State Department, the CIA, Saddam Hussein, the British Foreign Office, Democrats and all those, mostly but by no means exclusively on the left and centre, who opposed the invasion of Iraq by the US and Britain in 2003.
The Guardian reports: The son of an establishment Baghdad family, Chalabi left Iraq as a child in 1956, spending much of his time between the US and the UK, along with stints in academia in Lebanon and finance in Jordan from the early 1970s. Along the way, he received a doctorate in mathematics and founded Petra Bank in Amman, which failed more than a decade later.
“In all of Iraq, nobody knows how to punch above their weight or play the convoluted game of Iraqi politics better than Ahmad Chalabi,” said Ramzy Mardini, a Jordan-based political analyst for thinktank The Atlantic Council. “His enduring survival is beyond our comprehension. Unlike Ayad Allawi [another former exile], Ahmad Chalabi is close to Iran. This is the key relationship that makes Chalabi’s candidacy something of a realistic prospect should Maliki be ousted. If Iran has a redline against a candidate, [he doesn’t] have a shot in making it in the end.
“If Iraqi politics were Game of Thrones, Chalabi would play Lord Baelish, a consummate puppet master behind the scenes, constantly plotting his path to power. For him, chaos isn’t a pit, but a ladder and Chalabi knows the ways and means of exploiting a crisis to suit his interests and elevation in Iraq’s political circles. He apparently has good relations with everyone, except Maliki.”
The next month will determine how willing Chalabi’s patrons are to throw in their lot with him. Maliki, apparently emboldened after a private talk with the office of Iraq Shia Islam’s highest authority, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, said on Friday that he was not going anywhere.