Ahmed Chalabi--I saw him as an idealist and Iraqi patriot
I know what most people think of the late Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi opposition leader who helped convince the U.S. to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime and connected us to faulty sources of intelligence on weapons of mass destruction. But I never could dislike him, although I tried. I knew all the accusations about Iranian ties, lying about WMD, corruption, self-serving, etc, but I could not help but admire his descriptions about the inclusive, human rights and religions'-respecting, unified country Iraq should be. And I respected his incredible work ethic--his tireless and thankless, behind the scenes efforts, to try and make his visions happen.I first met Chalabi in Baghdad in the fall of 2004, when I had already spent over a year of wading through Iraqi politics and the growing insurgency and dealing with way too many backward, power-hungry, ignorant, anti-Western, Islamic fundamentalist Iraqi politicians. My meetings with him and his staff first broke the ice after the USG-Iraqi National Congress (Chalabi's political organization) freeze that took place after U.S. forces raided his home earlier that year.I was able to see him in different settings--in his and others' homes (and twice got to swim in his enormous lap pool--a welcome relief in Baghdad's heat). His smile was more of a shrewd-looking smirk, yet he could be affable and friendly. I know people will think I was "duped" along with all the other Chalabi supporters, but I think Iraq would have been much better off if the U.S. had just put Chalabi in power (the Department of Defense's suspected plan to begin with) instead of setting up the contrived, sectarian, divisive, Islamist empowering, power-sharing arrangement of the Iraqi Governing Council. And I don’t entirely blame him for cultivating ties to the Iranians. Every Shia politician in the country worth his salt did. You couldn’t survive as a Shia politician without healthy and friendly ties to the Iranians, and Chalabi often emphasized that he wanted Iraq to have good relations with its neighbors. You could view many of his actions through the lens of patriotism--he would do whatever it took to achieve what was in the best interest of his country. Chalabi seized an opportunity to get America--the world’s superpower-- to rid his country of an evil regime, and he took it. Ever the survivalist in the "shark tank" of Iraqi politics, and cut off from his former allies, the Americans, Chalabi re-invented himself and had to forge new paths in the political milieu. He took on different hats, whether pro-West, pro-Islam, pro-Iran, but he always stayed true to his vision of Iraq, and worked tirelessly to promote it. I'm sorry for Iraq that he never had the chance to gain prominence and realize his ideals more fully. His death will be a sore loss for Iraq.For more on Chalabi, here's a well-done NYT piece on his death, "Ahmad Chalabi, Iraqi Politician Who Pushed for U.S. Invasion, Dies at 71."And Jane Arraf's reporting is always good. Here's a fascinating piece she did on him in 2014 for Foreign Policy magazine, "The Resurrection of Ahmad Chalabi."