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- Published on Amazon.com
The author of this book, Richard Bonin, is an investigative reporter. As such, he uses this background to bring this man out of the shadows in this biography. A man who, unfortunately, has been very little written about per se (as opposed to being just mentioned in the press). Mr. Bonin's key to this biography was the unprecedented access he had to Dr. Chalabi. This access took the form of 60 hours of interview time that Dr. Chalabi had granted to Mr. Bonin. It should be stressed that this access was not bought by Mr. Bonin at the cost of providing a positive picture of the man (as Bob Woodward has paid for his access to players in the early part of the Bush Jr.'s administration on the early parts of the Gulf War II). Mr. Bonin was able to use this access very well, along with a lot of serious independent investigative journalism, to provide an interesting and seemingly accurate picture of the man.
The reader learns that Ahmad Chalabi came from a wealthy politically connected family. This provided him, as a child, servants and a material setting that was quite spectacular. The reader also learns, surprisingly and very importantly, that he was a Shiite as opposed to a Sunni (i.e., a member of the politically repressed majority as opposed to the minority with the political power). The reader learns how the military coup that placed the Bathist Party into power ended up forcing his family into exile in England and caused them to lose much of their wealth. Not that they were poor. Chalabi's father had squired quite a bit of his wealth away in London, where they lived an upper income lifestyle. Chalabi was sent to an "elite" public school ("public" in the terminology the English, which is the exact opposite of what it would mean to an American). The reader learns that Chalabi was a child prodigy in terms of intellect and mathematical aptitude (he later went on to earn a PhD in mathematics from MIT). It is also learned that Chalabi was extremely manipulative and deceitful as a student, a characteristic that would stay with him the rest of his life. The reader also learns that Chalabi had a very, very strong and burning desire to return to Iraq and overthrow Hussein though this would have to be, due to his personality, with himself as, naturally, the head. The rest of his life he followed this singular long-term and eventual goal.
After completing his education he goes to Jordan and makes himself a wealthy man many times over by introducing banking innovation into that nation (i.e., credit cards, etc). Unfortunately he, through his pro-Iranian/anti-Iraqi views and actions alienates his friends and the politically connected. Worse, he engages in bank fraud and as a result flees back to London. In his interviews he tells Mr. Bonin that the case against him was pure fiction and a result of his political enemies "framing" him but Bonin, through investigation, concludes otherwise.
While in his 2nd term of exile, he is able to dedicate himself to the overthrow of Sadam Hussein. As such he eventually comes to lead the Iraqi National Congress (through much manipulation and other shenanigans) and comes to the attention of the U.S. authorities, in particular the CIA, State Dept. and Defense Departments. Eventually they come to eschew him thanks to his manipulative nature, deception and ambitions. Dr. Chalabi, again using his manipulative skills and intelligence, eventually by passes these organizations and goes straight to the U.S. political elite that can, in his opinion, most help him in achieving his goals - the neoconservatives. By carefully fostering and leveraging various relationships, starting with the scholar Bernard Lewis (who introduces him to many leading and influential neo-conservatives), he gains the ears of a political constituency that, although still far from power (all this was still done under the Clinton Administration) sets the stage for his later role. The tale of how he enamored this group is quite impressive.
After President Bush the second is elected his mentors, such as Richard Pearle and Wolfowitz, among others, push to have Chalabi lead the Iraqi opposition and be strongly supported by the US, even to the point where many neo-conservatives, de facto, want to install him as a puppet ruler. This is despite fierce opposition from the CIA, State Dept. and the non-political segment of the Defense Dept (basically anyone out of the neo-conservative's cabal). This tale of manipulation, as well as stupidity, is also well told by Mr. Bonin. Eventually Iraq is invaded and Chalabi does return. Unfortunately he is eventually ruined (at least from the perspective of US support) for a number of reasons, the final straw being his provision to Iran of secret US information. However, Dr. Chalabi is currently still in Iraq where he seems to have done quite well both economically and politically. It is not out of the question that this devious and manipulative man may return to some position of authority in the Iraqi political arena. Unfortunately Mr. Bonin ends his book without examining the possibility of this.
All and all, a very good book resulting from a lot of serious investigative effort as well as those 60 hours of interview hours. Four stars.