Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Comment: An Open Letter to Ahmad Chalabi

An appeal to the Iraqi opposition leader to address long-standing accusations of financial misdealing.
By Jihad Zein

Please do not consider this letter as just another link in the chain of attacks from the Arab world and certain Arab media against you personally and against your past, present and possible future role. Not because I approve of your way of doing politics - I have many objections of principle - but because I am extremely sceptical about the utterances that are emanating from certain sectors of the Arab world.


What I want to discuss with you is not the leadership role that the new military power in Iraq may confer upon you, but something connected to that role now that you have become the symbol of the Iraqi opposition. It is your symbolism that matters to me here - not your role - in the wake of the collapse of the aberrant, dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein.


Are you aware, Dr. Chalabi, that many political journalists in the Arab world who supported the regime of Saddam Hussein exploited your judicial problems in Jordan at the beginning of the 1980s not only to question your personal morality, but also to cast doubt upon any democratic project by any part of the Iraqi opposition, then or now?


I draw your attention to the charges filed against you in connection with Petra Bank in Jordan and your involvement with it. It is not only politicians who had connections to Saddam's regime who harbour suspicions about you, and feel certain that you are involved in corrupt practices, but a large number of Arab intellectuals - not for any personal motives, but because they come from a political culture that is hostile to American policy and that considers nationalism more important than democracy.


It is these people who concern me and who should concern you too because they do not have suspect motives, but rather profound intellectual and political convictions. We cannot ignore your symbolic role in the Arab world - and in our struggle for democracy - nor that you are, rightly or wrongly, accused of corruption in Jordan.


Today you have a role as a possible candidate for office in the new Iraq and you have to tackle the accusation of corruption. I do not believe this role will ever materialise if you do not settle this issue publicly, once and for all. For this reason, you must face justice and the media with complete transparency in order to convince Iraqi, Arab and Western opinion of your innocence.


I would not have felt the need to address myself to you had I not noticed, over years, your neglect of this subject at the level of public opinion. I believe this negligence has harmed you more than it has helped you. Now it is a snowball that is growing to such an extent that it is becoming a part of the symbolism that you embody as a former opposition figure and a formidable candidate in a democratic Iraq.


Your disregard of the press, and of people who have a right to know, concerns not only you. You must move quickly to explain in detail what happened in Jordan or risk damaging democratic aspirations not only in Iraq but also in other Arab countries. A political explanation will not suffice - that Saddam Hussein put pressure on King Hussein to close the commercial window to Iran that you opened at the end of the Iran-Iraq war, and that King Hussein had to give in because Jordan's greatest interests were tied into the war economy of Iraq.


More explanation is needed. What happened in the financial realm? Did you take deposits from Jordan to serve your own interests at the time that Petra Bank collapsed, with a resulting domino effect on a second bank in Beirut?


It is in your own interest, and in the interest of your political future, that you tackle every aspect of this question. It is going to have a negative impact upon your political reputation - even in the eyes of your closest friends. It is surely your democratic duty to give the fullest explanation. This would not only help your own political stability, but also the idea of democracy in the Arab world. Continued disregard of this dossier would oblige us - the Arab movement for democracy - to consider you as someone who is sidestepping, in a most dangerous way, one of the most important obligations of democracy: transparency.


You know that I am one of many in the Arab world who would like to see a strong Iraqi democracy that is capable of ending foreign occupation, a true democracy that is able to offer an alternative to Arab dictatorships by reconciling nationalism with democracy. You must, with respect, cease to be negligent. In a democratic Iraq, you must not neglect your personal dossier. I repeat: this matter does not concern only you; it concerns far more than you. I would not otherwise have appealed directly to you. Your case, rightly or wrongly, would have been one of dozens such cases in the Arab world.


Jihad Zein is diplomatic editor of Lebanon's An Nahar newspsaper.


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