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Middle East

Ahmed Chalabi, the man who drove the US to war in Iraq, dies at 71

© Ali Al-Saadi, AFP / Former Iraqi deputy prime minister Ahmed Chalabi during a press conference on July 15, 2014 in Baghdad

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2015-11-03

Ahmed Chalabi, the man who championed the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, died of a heart attack, Iraqi state TV announced Tuesday. He was 71.

A scion of a wealthy Iraqi Shiite family, Chalabi was a key player in the George W. Bush administration’s controversial bid to build a case for the ouster of Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein.

Details of the Iraqi politician’s death were sketchy. Iraqi state TV announced Tuesday that Chalabi died of a heart attack in Baghdad.

According to Iraqi parliamentarian Haitham al-Jabouri, who is also secretary of parliament's financial panel which Chalabi had chaired, attendants found the secular Shiite politician dead in bed in his Baghdad home.

A divisive figure often blamed for providing false intelligence on Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction to justify the US invasion, Chalabi was a close ally of Washington neoconservatives such as Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and Doug Feith in the lead-up to the 2003.

Return from exile

Following Saddam’s ouster, he returned from exile in the US to Iraq, where he played a key role in a disastrous de-Baathification programme. His return to Iraq marked a period of growing wealth for the Chalabi family amid numerous corruption allegations.

A quintessential middleman and dealer, Chalabi maintained ties with former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, weathering corruption probes in the post-Saddam era.

Despite a widely held view in Washington’s neoconservative circles that Chalabi was the ideal candidate to lead a post-Saddam Iraq, the secular Shiite politician who spent most of his life in exile never made it to the top spot in Iraqi politics.

After the disastrous de-Baathification programme, Chalabi had a falling out with the Pentagon and was largely sidelined by other Iraqi leaders, many with close ties to neighboring Iran.

Despite his secular politics, Chalabi maintained close ties with Iran and was accused of providing information to Tehran during a time of heightened US-Iran tensions.

Corruption allegations dogged Chalabi in several countries, particularly in Jordan, where he was sentenced in absentia to prison for financial fraud in the Petra Bank case.

From Ottoman opulence to exile

The youngest of nine children, Chalabi was born in October 1944 to a bourgeois Baghdad family that was known to live in “Ottoman opulence”.

In the pre-Saddam era, a number of Chalabis held prominent positions in the Ottoman and then the nationalist era. But following the fall of the Hashemite monarchy, the family left Iraq in the mid-1950s and Chalabi spent most of his life in Britain and the US, where he received a doctorate in mathematics.

He organised a Kurdish uprising in northern Iraq in the mid-1990s but hundreds of people were killed and he later fled, returning only after Saddam’s ouster.

Chalabi had been serving as the chairman of parliament's finance committee, and was previously a deputy prime minister.

He is survived by his wife, Leila Osseiran Chalabi, and four children.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Date created : 2015-11-03

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