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Iraq War 10 Years Later: Where Are They Now? Ahmed Chalabi (Iraqi exile leader)

Jessica Lynch. Tommy Franks.  'Chemical Ali.' Tony Blair. Hans Blix. Ten years ago, as the war in Iraq began, these were names on front pages everywhere. Find out what has happened to them – and 10 other headliners associated with the conflict – since.

Ali Haider/AP file

Iraqi opposition leader Ahmad Chalabi, right, talks to tribal leader Ali-Farhan Al-Temimi in Baghdad on April 18, 2003.

Ahmed Chalabi (Iraqi exile leader)

When the American-led coalition invaded Iraq in March 2003, it marked a triumph for Ahmed Chalabi, the scion of a prominent Baghdad Shiite family who had long led efforts from abroad to overthrow the Saddam Hussein regime.

Born in 1944, Chalabi left Iraq as a boy, and has spent most of his life in the USA and the UK, earning a degree in mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Ph.D. in the same subject from the University of Chicago. He then took a position in the mathematics department at the American University of Beirut, where he went on to form a Jordanian bank, the Petra Bank, which eventually went bust, leading Jordanian authorities to sentence Chalabi in absentia to a multi-year jail term.

 It was to prove just the start of controversy for Chalabi, who subsequently went on to head the Iraqi National Congress (INC), an umbrella opposition group that received considerable amounts of money from the American government as it attempted to bring about the downfall of the Saddam regime.

Chalabi’s greatest sin, according to critics, was in persuading the American government and U.S. media outlets -- most notably the New York Times (through its former reporter Judith Miller) --  that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and/or the means to produce them.

Saad Shalash/Reuters file

Iraqi Shi'ite politician Ahmed Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress, speaks at a news conference in Baghdad Feb. 14, 2010.

Once back in Iraq, Chalabi quickly tried to establish himself as the voice of the Shi’ite majority, but soon found that role largely taken by the religious leaders who had guided their population through the Saddam dictatorship. 

 He also faced legal troubles. Chalabi and other members of the INC were investigated for fraud involving the exchange of Iraqi currency, theft of national and private assets. In May 2004, U.S. government discontinued their regular payments to Chalabi and then police supported by U.S. soldiers raided his offices. 

 Once again repeating his phoenix-like ability to rise from apparent ruin, Chalabi in 2005 was named a deputy prime minister as well as acting oil minister. 

 And in early 2007, he again astounded observers with another remarkable political reincarnation: as an intermediary between Baghdad residents and the Iraqi and U.S. security forces involved in President Bush’s controversial “surge” designed to push militants out of the city. According to the Wall Street Journal,  the position was meant to help Iraqis get payments for damage to their cars and homes caused by the security sweeps in the hope of maintaining public support for the strategy. 

 In September of 2008, Chalibi was fortunate to escape with his life when his motorcade was attacked in the tony Mansour neighborhood of Baghdad. Iraqi officials said at least six people, including five from Chalabi's entourage, were killed. Nine of Chalabi's guards or drivers were among the 17 wounded.

And in January 2012, it was reported that Chalabi had been in contact with some members of the leading opposition group in Bahrain, Al Wefaq National Islamic Society. (Bahrain has been wracked by sometimes violent protests by the Shi’ite majority at the rule of the Sunni al-Khalifa family.) This was confirmed by Jawad Fairooz, secretary general of Wefaq and a former member of Parliament in Bahrain.

“Mr. Chalabi has helped us with contacts in Washington like other people have done and we thank them,” Fairooz told the New York Times, "but we are not allowing any person or party from outside to dictate us what to do in Bahrain.”