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Politician Ahmad Chalabi Dies Of A Heart Attack, Iraqi TV Reports


There's news from Iraq this morning that Ahmed Chalabi has died of a heart attack. He has often been referred to as the architect of the Iraq war. That was because of his role in persuading the United States to go to war against Saddam Hussein. NPR's Alice Fordham joins us from Beirut. She has covered Iraq extensively. She's on the line. Alice, good morning.

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So just remind us, if you can, about Chalabi's role.

FORDHAM: So Chalabi was really the key leader in an exiled opposition group that lobbied against Saddam, called the Iraqi National Congress, based in D.C. That was very close to the Unites States government, funded by the United States government to the tune of millions of dollars for things like opposition TV channels. But they're mainly known for propagating the idea that Saddam Hussein presented a threat because he had biological weapons, weapons of mass destruction. Officials later, after the invasion, said that the Iraqi National Congress funneled sources of intelligence to the United States, defectors and regime opponents who passed on intelligence about things like biological weapons, which was used as support for the invasion of Iraq. But of course, no one ever found any weapons of mass destruction or biological weapons after Iraq was invaded. In later years, when he was challenged about this, Chalabi was more or less unrepentant. In the interviews that he gave, he seemed to imply that the important thing was that Saddam Hussein had gone.

GREENE: Well, and that was something he celebrated, right? I mean, he went back to Iraq and did, you know, something close to a victory lap, trying to get back involved in politics after Saddam was out.

FORDHAM: Yeah, although he was never really a hugely successful politician. I think maybe Iraqis just perceived him as too much of an exile. He'd been a professor in the United States. They didn't really quite trust him I don't think. And his relationship with the U.S., as well, didn't remain strong. They, you know, continued to meet regularly. But when I used to meet with him, it was in the context of a thing called the de-Baathification program, which he headed. And the idea of that was to prevent people who had held senior positions in Saddam Hussein's Baath party from holding office. But in reality, thousands of people were qualified from working or getting pensions by the program. And it was very widely seen as sectarian, you know, leaders from the Shia majority in Iraq getting revenge on the Sunni minority who had held sway during Saddam Hussein's time.

GREENE: What was he like in person, Alice?

FORDHAM: He was very expansive. He had a quirky fashion sense. He was very clever, especially on financial stuff. He was very dismissive of what he saw as stupid questions. And he had an amazing ability to win people over. You know, I've seen a room of cynical journalists who I'm sure had questions about his motivations, about what he had done, who had been working in Iraq for years just, you know, laughing at his jokes. He was really a world champion at winning people over.

GREENE: All right, talking to NPR's Alice Fordham about the death of Ahmed Chalabi. He was referred to do as the architect of the war in Iraq. Alice, thanks very much.

FORDHAM: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alice Fordham is an NPR International Correspondent based in Beirut, Lebanon.