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[casi] Chalabi expects to head provisional government

It's official -- INC leader Ahmed Chalabi expects to be named head of an Iraqi
provisional government following regime change.  A WashPost story below notes
that Chalabi may boycot a pan-opposition conference because, "Chalabi had wanted
the conference to endorse a provisional government, with him as its leader." [1]

In this line, a new prowar advocacy group -- "Committee for the Liberation of
Iraq" -- is heavily laden with Chalabi supporters (Senators John McCain and
(fmr) Bob Kerrey). [2]  Given Chalabi's earlier hint that oil contracts would be
redrawn following regime change, one suspects that funding for the Committee is
not a problem.

Finally, let's note again John Rendon's role in the ascent of Ahmed Chalabi and
the INC:  "'Were it not for Rendon,' a State Department official tells the
[Village] Voice, 'the Chalabi group wouldn't even be on the map.'"  Below, the
Village Voice interviews a grad student to whom Rendon paid $3K/month to imitate
Saddam Hussein in faux radio broadcasts. [3]

Drew Hamre
Golden Valley, MN USA

=== [1]
Iraqi Exile Groups' Efforts Stalled by Intense Rivalries
Power Struggle Emerges Over Plan for Post-Hussein Era; Key Faction Also Feuding
With U.S. on Funds

By Daniel Williams
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, November 12, 2002; Page A15

ROME, Nov. 11 -- Three months after the Bush administration encouraged them to
unite and create a common political platform for the future of their country,
Iraq's exile factions are locked in an ethnic, religious and political power

Potentially important players are fighting tenaciously over rival agendas. One
of the major factions, the Iraqi National Congress (INC), is also feuding with
the State Department over $8 million in funding for propaganda, humanitarian and
other programs it is supposed to oversee, State Department officials said. A
much-heralded INC "information-gathering" operation inside Iraq has yet to get
off the ground, the officials said, because of uncertainty in the Bush
administration about the INC's ability to get and relay useful intelligence, as
well as competing views within the Washington bureaucracy.

Also stalled are the preparations for a pan-opposition conference that was meant
to project a vision for democratic rule if President Saddam Hussein is
overthrown. The conference was originally scheduled for late September, but has
been repeatedly postponed. The next possible date is Nov. 22, in Brussels, but
the INC is threatening a boycott. The State Department plans to send a delegate
to London soon to meet with opposition officials in an attempt to end the
infighting that has blocked the conference, a department official said.

The arguing has put into doubt a role for Iraqi exiles in the country's future
and presents a grim preview of problems for any U.S. occupation of Iraq.

Some of the disputes are based on ethnic suspicions and religious rivalries.
During his decades in power, Hussein has tamped down such conflicts through
repression. But by President Bush's reckoning, the new Iraq is supposed to
resolve its problems within a democratic system.

The Bush administration officially recognizes six opposition organizations. One
is the INC, an amalgam of anti-Hussein groups. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan
and the Kurdistan Democratic Party represent the Kurdish population, based in
northern Iraq. The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution (SCIRI), an
Iranian-based fundamentalist group, claims to represent the majority Shiite
Muslim population. The Iraqi National Accord is composed of former army officers
and defectors from Hussein's Baathist party. Also thrown into the mix is a
monarchist party that embodies the aspirations of Sharif Ali bin Al Hussein, an
exiled aristocrat, to restore the Hashemite throne to Iraq.

Bush also has authorized expansion of the opposition organizations to include
groups representing other former military officers and Turkish, Assyrian and
Christian minorities.

The INC leader, Ahmed Chalabi, may boycott the conference over the scope of its
agenda, the number of delegates and the quotas given invited organizations.
Chalabi had wanted the conference to endorse a provisional government, with him
as its leader. He also wanted upwards of 300 delegates chosen partly on the
basis of profession, gender and politics, not solely because of ethnicity or

The Kurdish parties, SCIRI and the Iraqi National Accord combined to squash the
provisional government idea and other Chalabi proposals, and to limit the
conference to about 180 participants. Fundamentalist Shiite Muslim
representatives would make up about 35 percent of the delegates, a quota that
offended secular Iraqis such as Chalabi. The Kurds would make up 25 percent,
Turks and Assyrians 10 percent. The remaining delegates would be Sunni Muslims,
the group that has traditionally ruled Iraq.

Kanan Makiya, a prominent writer and critic of the Iraqi government, launched a
fierce critique of the conference plans and called on Iraqi exiles to deluge the
State Department with statements of protest. "Where are the independents? Where
are the democrats? . . . Where is Iraq in such a travesty of democracy and
fairness?" he asked.

"If the conference goes ahead as is, it will only further divide the Iraqi
opposition, the opposite of its intended aims," said Siyamend Othman, an
independent political observer.

Last week, Chalabi walked out of a meeting of conference organizers after SCIRI
delegates criticized him for opposing the meeting. Kurdish officials involved
insist the conference will go on as scheduled. "Calls for change are a minority
opinion," said Latif Rashid, a Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) representative
in London. "There are just details that have to be worked out."

"The problem is just one person -- Chalabi," said Hoshyar Zibari, a top
Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) official. "He doesn't want the conference to
take place. He is fighting for his political life."

In the meantime, the PUK and KDP have made proposals that have upset their
nominal opposition partners. The Kurdish parties plan to present a constitution
for Iraq that would grant the Kurds autonomy in an expanded territory in the
country's north. The city of Kirkuk is designated as the Kurdish capital. The
central government would control only foreign affairs, the military and economic

In effect, the Kurds want a federated Iraq divided between Arabs and Kurds.
"This is a non-starter for the Arabs," said a SCIRI representative.

Turkey, one of Iraq's powerful neighbors, opposes anything that looks like a
step toward Kurdish statehood and has been battling Kurdish nationalism within
its own borders for decades. The Turks warned that if the Kurds occupy Kirkuk, a
city surrounded by rich oil resources, they could face an invasion by Turkish
troops. During a meeting last month in Ankara, the Turks asked Gen. Tommy R.
Franks, who heads the U.S. Central Command that covers Iraq, not to use the
Kurds in military action, Western diplomats said. The Kurds boast a militia of
50,000 troops and their leaders have expressed hope that an alliance with the
United States would ensure an autonomous northern Iraq.

The infighting has discouraged U.S. officials. Although the Pentagon has tasked
Chalabi with recruiting guides and logistics officers among Iraqis to help U.S.
troops in any invasion, for instance, the program has yet to get underway.

The INC also had harbored hopes of getting funds to collect intelligence inside
Iraq via the "information-gathering" scheme. Because of previous disagreements
between the INC and the State Department, the program was passed to the
Pentagon, which agreed to pay but then pulled back when Chalabi made the pledge

=== [2]
Concerning the "Committee for the Liberation of Iraq", see and

=== [3]
For more on the influence of The Rendon Group, see

A Grad Student Mimicked Saddam Over the Airwaves
Broadcast Ruse
by Ian Urbina
November 13 - 19, 2002

"Word got around the department that I was a good Arabic translator who did a
great Saddam imitation," recalls the Harvard grad student. "Eventually, someone
phoned me asking if I wanted to help change the course of Iraq policy." So twice
a week, for $3000 a month, the Iraqi student tells the Voice on condition of
anonymity, he took a taxi from his campus apartment to a Boston-area recording
studio rented by the Rendon Group, a D.C.-based public relations firm with close
ties to the U.S. government. His job: Translate and dub spoofed Saddam Hussein
speeches and tongue-in-cheek newscasts for broadcast throughout Iraq.
"I never got a straight answer on whether the Iraqi resistance, the CIA, or
policy makers on the Hill were actually the ones calling the shots," says the
student, "but ultimately I realized that the guys doing spin were very well
funded and completely cut loose."

And that's how Baghdad's best-known oppositional radio personality was born six
years ago—during the Clinton administration. It was one of many disinformation
schemes cooked up by the Rendon Group, which has worked for both Democratic and
Republican administrations fighting the psy-op war in the Middle East.

"The point was to discredit Saddam, but the stuff was complete slapstick," the
student says. "We did skits where Saddam would get mixed up in his own lies, or
where [Saddam's son] Quasay would stumble over his own delusions of grandeur."
Transmissions were once a week from stations in northern Iraq and Kuwait. "The
only thing that was even remotely funny," says the student, "were the mockeries
of the royal guard and the government's clumsy attempts to deceive arms

The Saddam impersonator says he left Rendon not long ago out of frustration with
what he calls the lack of expertise and oversight in the project. It was doubly
frustrating, he says, because he despises Saddam, although he adds that he never
has been involved with any political party or opposition group.

"No one in-house spoke a word of Arabic," he says. "They thought I was mocking
Saddam, but for all they knew I could have been lambasting the U.S. government."
The scripts, he adds, were often ill conceived. "Who in Iraq is going to think
it's funny to poke fun at Saddam's mustache," the student notes, "when the vast
majority of Iraqi men themselves have mustaches?"

There were other basic problems, too. Some of the announcers hired for the radio
broadcasts, he says, were Egyptians and Jordanians, whose Arabic accents
couldn't be understood by Iraqis. "Friends in Baghdad said the radio broadcasts
were a complete mumble," the student says. One CIA agent familiar with the
project calls the project's problem a lack of "due diligence," and adds, "The
scripts were put together by 23-year-olds with connections to the Democratic
National Committee."

Despite the fumbling naïveté of some of its operations, the Rendon Group is no
novice in the field. For decades, when U.S. bombs have dropped or foreign
leaders have been felled, the PR shop has been on the scene, just far enough to
stay out of harm's way, but just close enough to keep the spin cycle going. As
Franklin Foer reported in The New Republic, during the campaign against Panama's
Manuel Noriega in 1989, Rendon's command post sat downtown in a high-rise. In
1991, during the Gulf War, Rendon operatives hunkered down in Taif, Saudi
Arabia, clocking billable hours on a Kuwaiti emir's dole. In Afghanistan,
founder John Rendon joined a 9:30 conference call every morning with top-level
Pentagon officials to set the day's war message. Rendon operatives haven't
missed a trip yet—Haiti, Kosovo, Zimbabwe, Colombia.

The firm is tight-lipped, however, about its current projects. A spokesperson
refuses to say whether Rendon is doing any work in preparation for the potential
upcoming invasion of Iraq. But a current Rendon Arabic translator tells the
Voice, "All I can say is that nothing has changed—the work is still an expensive
waste of time, mostly with taxpayer funds."

However, Rendon may just prove to be one step ahead of the game. If Saddam is
toppled, a Rendon creation is standing by to try to take his place. The Iraqi
National Congress (INC), a disparate coalition of Iraqi dissidents touted by the
U.S. government as the best hope for an anti-Saddam coup, has gotten the
go-ahead from U.S. officials to arm and train a military force for invasion. The
INC is one of the few names you'll hear if reporters bother to press government
officials on what would come after Saddam.

At the helm of the INC is Ahmed Chalabi, a U.S.-trained mathematician who
reportedly fled from Jordan in 1989 in the trunk of a car after the collapse of
a bank he established. He was subsequently charged and sentenced in absentia to
22 years in prison for embezzlement. Back home in Iraq, he's referred to by some
as the so-called limousine insurgent, and is said to hold little actual standing
with the Iraqi public. Shuttling between London and D.C., Chalabi hasn't been in
Iraq in more than 20 years, and draws "more support on the Potomac than the
Euphrates," says Iraq specialist Andrew Parasiliti of the Middle East Institute.

"Were it not for Rendon," a State Department official tells the Voice, "the
Chalabi group wouldn't even be on the map."

With funding first from the CIA throughout the 1990s and more recently the
Pentagon, Rendon managed the INC's every move, an INC spokesperson acknowledges,
even choosing its name, coordinating its annual strategy conferences, and
orchestrating its meetings with diplomatic heavy hitters such as James Baker and
Brent Scowcroft.

Not that the Rendon Group was the first purveyor of psy-op tactics for promoting
U.S. foreign policy in the region. In fact, some of the most impressive spin
maneuvers occurred during the Gulf War in 1991, the lessons of which are
particularly pertinent as the U.S. again gears up.

Most notorious was the work of PR giant Hill & Knowlton (for which current
Pentagon spokesperson Torie Clarke worked after she was an aide to John McCain
and Bush's dad). Subsidized by the Kuwaiti royal family, H&K dedicated 119
executives in 12 offices across the country to the job of drumming up support
within the United States for the '91 war. It was an all-out blitz: distributing
tens of thousands of "Free Kuwait" T-shirts and bumper stickers at colleges and
setting up observances such as National Kuwait Day and National Student
Information Day. H&K also mailed 200,000 copies of a book titled The Rape of
Kuwait to American troops stationed in the Middle East. The firm also massaged
reporters, arranging interviews with handpicked Kuwaiti emissaries and
dispatching footage of burning wells and oil-slicked birds washed ashore.

But nothing quite compared to H&K's now infamous "baby atrocities" campaign.
After convening a number of focus groups to try to figure out which buttons to
press to make the public respond, H&K determined that presentations involving
the mistreatment of infants, a tactic drawn straight from W.R. Hearst's playbook
of the Spanish-American War, got the best reaction. So on October 10, 1990, the
Congressional Human Rights Caucus held a hearing on Capitol Hill at which H&K,
in coordination with California Democrat Tom Lantos and Illinois Republican John
Porter, introduced a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl named Nayirah. (Purportedly to
safeguard against Iraqi reprisals, Nayirah's full name was not disclosed.)
Weeping and shaking, the girl described a horrifying scene in Kuwait City. "I
volunteered at the al-Addan hospital," she testified. "While I was there I saw
the Iraqi soldiers coming into the hospital with guns and going into the room
where 15 babies were in incubators. They took the babies out of the incubators,
took the incubators, and left the babies on the cold floor to die." Allegedly,
312 infants were removed.

The tale got wide circulation, even winding up on the floor of the United
Nations Security Council. Before Congress gave the green light to go to war,
seven of the main pro-war senators brought up the baby-incubator allegations as
a major component of their argument for passing the resolution to unleash the
bombers. Ultimately, the motion for war passed by a narrow five-vote margin.

Only later was it discovered that the testimony was untrue. H&K had failed to
reveal that Nayirah was not only a member of the Kuwaiti royal family, but also
that her father, Saud Nasir al-Sabah, was Kuwait's ambassador to the U.S. H&K
had prepped Nayirah in her presentation, according to Harper's publisher John R.
MacArthur's book Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War. Of the
seven other witnesses who stepped up to the podium that day, five had been
prepped by H&K and had used false names. When human rights organizations
investigated later, they could not find that Nayirah had any connection to the
hospital. Amnesty International, among those originally duped, eventually issued
an embarrassing retraction.

When asked if it acknowledges the incubator story as a deception, H&K's media
liaison, Suzanne Laurita, only responded, "The company has nothing to say on
this matter." Pushed further on whether such deception was considered part of
the public relations industry, she reiterated, "Please know again that this
falls into the realm that the agency has no wish to confirm, deny, comment on."

Years later, Scowcroft, the national security adviser at the time, concluded
that the tale was surely "useful in mobilizing public opinion."


Ian Urbina is based at the Middle East Research and Information Project in
Washington, D.C

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