Summary of the Series: Judy embedded with a group that was poorly-prepared to hunt down WMDs--but was given the central role in the first days of the war nevertheless. While there, she engaged in a pattern--announcing a big find, then quietly withdrawing that find shortly thereafter. She also used her influence (including her direct influence on Gonzales, apparently) to shift the unit's focus away from examining suspected WMD sites to finding Iraqi officials, some supplied by Ahmed Chalabi, who offered convenient excuses for the absence of WMDs. Meanwhile, over the course of her embed, Judy set the foundation--and created excuses--for the Bush Administration's "surprise" realization that they might not find WMDs in Iraq.
When we last left Judy, she had reunited with her favorite source, Ahmed Chalabi. He had given her some legitimate leads, allowing Judy's close friend Richard Gonzales the honor of taking custody of Saddam's son-in-law. But Chalabi had also reverted to form, providing untrustworthy sources (a person I'm calling Yankee Fan and the biologist Nissar Hindawi) who told Judy precisely what she--and the Bush Administration--wanted to hear.
In this installment, Judy returns the favor to Chalabi. She pre-empts another NYT writer's article on Chalabi so she can provide a complimentary profile of Chalabi and help him as he lobbied for power in post-war Iraq.
Judy Squabbles with NYT's Baghdad Bureau Chief
Miller makes waves when she publishes an article on May 1, 2003 without clearing it with NYT's Baghdad bureau chief John Burns. This might seem like a typical Judy move, just Judy working all angles to make sure she can print the story she wants to print. As Franklin Foer notes,
According to one of her editors, she worked stories for investigative one day, foreign the next, and the Washington bureau the day after. It was never clear who controlled or edited her. When one desk stymied her, she'd simply hustle over to another and pitch her story there. It was an editorial vacuum worsened by the absence of a top editor on the investigative unit, her nominal home.
But this is something more than Miller bypassing the relevant authority. Here, she seems to have written an article on Chalabi that pre-empted another journalist's article. From Howard Kurtz' first article on this, which appeared May 26:
"I am deeply chagrined at your reporting and filing on Chalabi after I had told you on Monday night that we were planning a major piece on him -- and without so much as telling me what you were doing," Burns wrote that day, according to e-mail correspondence obtained by The Washington Post.
"We have a bureau here; I am in charge of that bureau until I leave; I make assignments after considerable thought and discussion, and it was plain to all of us to whom the Chalabi story belonged. If you do this, what is to stop you doing it on any other story of your choosing? And what of the distress it causes the correspondent who is usurped? It is not professional, and not collegial." [emphasis mine]
Burns told Miller someone was going to publish a "major piece" on Chalabi. She apparently said nothing in return. Instead, she went ahead and published her own article on Chalabi, published on May 1, 2003.
And that article, it seems, succeeded in pre-empting the "major piece" that had been planned. There's no NYT profile--besides Judy's May 1 article--focused exclusively on Chalabi in the month of May. There's a profile of all the exiled Iraqi leaders. And a few other articles mentioning Chalabi. The closest thing to a "major piece" on Chalabi is a Patrick Tyler article that appeared on A1 on May6, ostensibly describing a number of exiles' maneuvering to take power, but also describing Chalabi's claims to have documents that incriminated his enemies in detail. But no "major piece' on him written after April 28, 2003, the Monday Burns must have communicated with Miller.
Judy, not surprisingly, turned Burns' legitimate gripe on its head, playing the insulted party:
She apologized for any confusion, but noted that the Army unit she was traveling with -- Mobile Exploration Team Alpha -- "is using Chalabi's intell and document network for its own WMD work. . . . Since I'm there every day, talking to him. . . . I thought I might have been included on a decision by you" to have another reporter write about Chalabi.
It's as if Judy's saying that Burns, the editor, should have come to her, the writer, before deciding to assign someone else to write a story on Chalabi. Judy seems to consider herself Chalabi's agent at the NYT, through which all Chalabi stories must go.
The Previous NYT Profile
Chalabi may have had reason to want to ensure his perspective was represented faithfully. Less than a month before, on April 10, 2003, the NYT had published an article on Chalabi co-bylined by Judy, Michael Moss, and Lowell Bergman. The article portrayed Chalabi as the lightning rod for divisions between Pentagon and State.
But already the return of Mr. Chalabi, a founder and leader of the Iraqi National Congress, has drawn sharply mixed reviews, both in Washington and among other Iraqi opposition leaders.
Pentagon officials arranged for American troops to escort him into southern Iraq this week and promoted him for a role in the interim government to replace Mr. Hussein. But State Department officials described him yesterday as a divisive figure in the Iraqi opposition, and they predicted that after years in exile, he would attract little popular support in Iraq.
Indeed, State Department officials moved yesterday to undercut an initiative by Mr. Chalabi to summon Iraqi opposition leaders to their first post-Saddam meeting on Saturday in Nasiriya. A department spokesman, Richard A. Boucher, said there would soon be ''a meeting of liberated Iraqis from newly freed areas of Iraq as well as members of the free Iraqi opposition who have been free overseas.'' The location and date of the gathering -- the first in a series of ''regional meetings'' to set up an Iraqi interim authority -- had not been determined, he said.
If that passage didn't already lay out clearly enough that Chalabi was a litmus test for everyone's allegiances, the article goes on to describe the entire conflict within the Bush Administration over the post-war plan for Iraq in terms relating to Chalabi.
To his friends in the Pentagon -- among them, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and Defense Policy Review Board member Richard Perle -- Mr. Chalabi is a courageous and charismatic proponent of democracy whose vision for Iraq is in tune with the Bush administration and could also help transform autocratic, tradition-bound Arab culture.
But many officials at the State Department and the C.I.A. consider him erratic and egomaniacal. Many regard his ambitious desire to transform Arab political culture as ''flaky'' and potentially destabilizing not only to Iraq, but also to autocratic leaders of Middle Eastern nations that are longtime American allies.
What I assume to be Judy's contribution (she was with Chalabi in February) makes Chalabi look like the aggrieved freedom fighter.
Mr. Chalabi has long since grown accustomed to the political cross-fire. ''This is really not about me,'' Mr. Chalabi said in an interview in February in the Kurdish-controlled area of northern Iraq. ''This is about whether people think that Arabs are wogs who really don't deserve, and can't handle democracy.'' [emphasis mine]
Interestingly, Chalabi here uses a line that Bush supporters would make good use of over the following two years--if you don't like the plan Bush has for Iraqi (or Lebanese or Egyptian or Saudi or Iranian) democracy, then you must be a racist. Did Chalabi devise the formula himself, did he get it from White House spinners, or did they come up with it together?
But others writing on that article took their shots at Chalabi.
An administration official cited one meeting with Mr. Cheney where Mr. Chalabi said that the United States would not need more than 30,000 troops to overthrow Mr. Hussein, because he would lead other exiles back into Iraq and immediately inspire an uprising by millions of Iraqis.
After that, some administration officials began to refer to Mr. Chalabi as ''Spartacus.''
Most of this was just insult. But some of it, I suspect, was quite potent, in the grand scheme of things.
New sniping erupted between Mr. Chalabi and the C.I.A. last month, when the agency issued a report saying his group had little credibility inside Iraq, according to officials familiar with the report.
For a reminder of why the debate over Chalabi was so important, we can turn to Juan Cole.
I have it from insiders that in April, 2003, Jay Garner let it slip to some of his staff that his charge was to turn Iraq over to Ahmad Chalabi within six months. The staffers were shocked and some contacted the State Department to see if this was known there. It was not. So they blew the whistle on Bush with Colin Powell. I was told that Powell then made a coalition with Tony Blair and that the two of them went to Bush and got him to change his mind.
The plan to put Chalabi in charge of Iraq was frankly idiotic. Chalabi had no grass roots. He was the one who had the bright idea to throw thousands of ex-Baathists into unemployment (which encouraged them to join the guerrilla resistance). It later came out that some of the Neoconservatives in the Pentagon had let it slip to him that the US had broken the Iranian diplomatic codes. Chalabi is chummy with Tehran and let his friends among the Ayatollahs know this tidbit. As a result, the US can no longer closely track the Iranian nuclear program.
This is the man to whom Bush-- and I underline Bush-- was planning originally just to hand Iraq over. An Iranian asset. This was why, as Kerry noted on Thursday night, Bush had done no real planning for the period after the war. He thought he had everything sewn up because Chalabi would handle it.
This period in early May when Judy's article appeared would prove to be the make or break period for Chalabi's dreams to rule as Iraq' benevolent dictator. The attacks on his credibility were intensifying. Then, less than a week after Judy's article, on May 6, 2003, Jay Garner named Chalabi and four other exiles to begin forming a new government. At that point Garner predicted that within two weeks the nucleus of a government would form around the five leaders.
''Next week, or by the second weekend in May, you'll see the beginning of a nucleus of a temporary Iraqi government, a government with an Iraqi face on it that is totally dealing with the coalition,'' he said during a visit to Basra, in the south.
But then, that weekend, the Bush Administration suddenly announced the appointment of Paul Bremer. On May 13, Bremer would arrive in Baghdad and put a stop to the efforts to form a new government. Garner had tried to pre-empt further discussions about what the interim government should be. But others in the Bush Administration won that particular battle and got Bremer to come in and put plans for a new government on hold.
Judy's article addresses the political infighting going on and presents Chalabi's case on a number of issues. A minor point of the article is to air the INC's complaints about getting harassed by some members of the American military.
But Mudhar Shawkat, the No. 2 person in the Iraqi National Congress, said an American military unit on Monday stopped his two-car convoy, disarmed his guards, made them lie in the street and called them ''looters'' and ''criminals.''
Some seven members of Mr. Chalabi's fighters have been injured in clashes with Americans, and leaders of the Iraqi National Congress are aware of the Americans' arrest on Sunday of Baghdad's self-appointed mayor, Muhammad al-Zubeidi.
The major thrust of the article, however, is Judy's presentation of Chalabi's argument for de-Baathification. Remember, this was the period when Jay Garner still controlled the transition, before Bremer made his disastrous decision to de-Baathify the Iraqi military. At this point, Chalabi, not the CPA, is the one arguing for de-Baathification.
Perhaps most interesting, the one name targeted in Judy's article for de-Baathification (that is, exclusion from government positions) is a source associated with the CIA.
Mr. Chalabi declined to name names, but other representatives of the Iraqi National Congress, said that the Central Intelligence Agency had retained Saad Janabi as a key adviser. The opposition members identified Mr. Janabi as a former assistant to Hussein Kamel, Mr. Hussein's son-in-law who oversaw weapons programs, defected to Jordan in 1995, and was killed by Mr. Hussein's government when he later returned to Iraq.
A C.I.A. spokesman in Washington said he had no comment on whether Mr. Janabi was advising the agency.
This is a possibility I had not heard of before--that in the name of de-Baathification Chalabi may have been intervening in the rivalry between intelligence agencies back in DC. In the name of de-Baathification, was Chalabi eliminating the CIA's sources in Iraq?
Finally, Judy relates some of the controversy surrounding the formation of the new government. Judy acknowledges the doubts about Chalabi. But she also portrays Chalabi as the instigator of the plan to form a new government that the Bush Administration had adopted.
He said that Mr. Chalabi and the five other opposition leaders elected last February at a conference in northern Iraq would meet on Thursday to discuss plans for the provisional, or transitional, government, that Mr. Chalabi has long advocated and Washington recently endorsed.
A broader conference of Iraqis is to be held in about a month, with a view to choosing an Iraqi administration -- a timetable speeded up after a series of meetings in Washington concluded that that was desirable, Bush administration officials have said.
However, it appears that officials in Washington have not resolved what position, if any, Mr. Chalabi should occupy. Mr. Chalabi has strong support from Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz and from the office of Vice President Dick Cheney. However, the State Department and other American officials have reservations. [emphasis mine]
For all her work to get it published, Judy's article seems to have had only mixed success. Bremer would eventually embrace Chalabi's goal for de-Baathification. But less than two weeks after the publication of the article, Bremer's arrival put a stop to Chalabi's plan to form a new government.
Next Installment: Judy finds a Lost Ark and loses the Knesset