By Ray Fleming
ONE name stands out among all those who persuaded the Republican neo-conservatives in Washington that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and that an invasion to overthrow him would be welcomed by the Iraqi people. That name is of the Iraqi, Adam Chalabi, a consummate wheeler-dealer and survivor, who claimed and was believed during many years of exile in the United States that he had reliable inside knowledge of what was happening in Iraq. So strong was his influence that he was flown to Baghdad by the Pentagon just a few days after the invasion. When there proved to be no flowers in the street for the American troops and when the weapons of mass destruction were nowhere to be seen, Mr Chalabi kept out of sight. At one point his home was raided by US and Iraqi forces following reports that he had leaked sensitive information to Iran. But, again, he survived and somehow became Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq in charge of the country's oil indusstry. This week he is visiting Washington for meetings with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and, possibly, with Vice President Cheney. He has recently been in Teheran and there are rumours that he may be bringing a message from Iran's new hardline president. He also has plans to form a new political party in Iraq to fight the December election, which would be made up of officials and technocrats with no religious affiliation to either Shia or Sunni communities, although Mr Chalabi is himself a Shia. He probably wants to find out what financial and moral support he can expect from Washington for this idea, which has some merit in itself because, if successful, it could begin to break the religious hold on Iraqi politics. But it would be amazing if the Americans were to be willing to pay out more money to help solve the consequences of the war to the very man they financed for so long when he was telling them the lies that led them into the war. It is difficult to suppress a sneaking admiration for Ahmad Chalabi's instincts for survival and it cannot be overlooked that he is, for the moment, deputy prime minsiter. None the less, Washington will surely be wise to work on the principle of “once bitten twice shy”.

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