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American Lawmakers Express Doubts About Chalabi, Once Favorite Iraqi Leader - 2004-05-23

Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi politician whose offices in Baghdad were raided last week, is calling for President Bush to get personally involved in the country's June 30 transition to sovereignty. Meanwhile, American lawmakers express their doubts about Mr. Chalabi, who some U.S. officials once considered a potential leader in post-war Iraq. Last year, the U.S. government praised its cooperation with Ahmad Chalabi, whose Iraqi National Congress had been providing intelligence information about Iraq. In January, he sat just behind First Lady Laura Bush during the president's State of the Union address.

The raid Thursday on the Iraqi National Congress offices in Baghdad shows how this closeness has unraveled.

On the NBC television program Meet the Press, Mr. Chalabi denounced the raid on his group's Baghdad offices a few days ago, and strongly denied accusations that he or his organization have been spying for neighboring Iran.

"We have had many meetings with the Iranian government, but we have passed no secret information, no classified documents to them from the United States," he said.

Mr. Chalabi said his recent call to the United States "let my people go," referred to giving Iraqis their own sovereignty after the departure of the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority.

"And we want arrangements to give Iraq control over its armed forces, over its finances," said Mr. Chalabi. "We want the advisers appointed by the CPA to go when the CPA is dissolved on June 30. And we want to make it possible for the U.S. troops to go out of Iraq with the thanks of the Iraqi people, after having liberated our country."

He also rejected current political plans under discussion for post-transition Iraq, and instead put forth his own alternative. "I call on President Bush, who is still the most popular politician in Iraq, to convene a meeting of Iraqi leaders in Camp David, to iron out this process and put in place a government for Iraq that is effective and representative, and can lead Iraq to elections next January," said Mr. Chalabi.

Meanwhile, back on Capitol Hill, American lawmakers are looking into what role the Iraqi National Congress played in U.S. pre-war intelligence.

On CNN's Late Edition, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein said she believes Mr. Chalabi did not provide accurate information to the U.S. government. "Well, there was a lot of misleading," said Senator Feinstein. "And there is no question but that the United States was misled. We were misled on weapons of mass destruction. We were misled on the number of troops that could go in. We were misled on the occupation."

Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, Republican Pat Roberts, told CBS's Face the Nation his committee is planning to release a report on the issue next month. "I would like to reserve comment until that report comes out," said Mr. Roberts. "But there is a school of thought, especially by the CIA, that Mr. Chalabi's intelligence input was not that good. And that is probably an understatement."

Congress had approved tens of millions of dollars for payments to the Iraqi National Congress