Sun, Mar 07, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Chalabi says `blame the CIA, not me' about WMD

REUTERS , NEW YORK

Iraqi Governing Council member Ahmed Chalabi says he is tired of being blamed for misleading the US about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and points the finger instead at the CIA in an interview with CBS's 60 Minutes.

Chalabi, who heads the Iraqi National Congress exile group and has close ties to the George W. Bush administration, says the CIA should have done a better job analyzing information received from defectors he steered their way.

"This is a ridiculous situation," says Chalabi, who still maintains that weapons of mass destruction will be found in Iraq.

Chalabi said the CIA knew defectors can be biased and that even the press was saying "defectors have an ax to grind, don't believe them."

"Now you're telling me that despite all this public evidence, the United States government took our word without checking out the people?" Chalabi said incredulously.

"Intelligence people who are supposed to do a better job for their country and their government did not do such a good job."

Chalabi, who was born into a prominent Iraqi family but spent 45 years outside Iraq before returning in April, denies coaching defectors, something the CIA believe he's done for years, according to a former CIA analyst interviewed on the show.

The analyst, Ken Pollack, who now works for the Saban Center for Middle East Policy and for CNN, said the Bush administration used the information to label Iraq an imminent threat.

Pollack said they were looking "to simply confirm a preconceived notion of an extremely threatening Iraq ... on the cusp of acquiring the most advanced ... dangerous weapons."

Pollack blames senior US officials, not Chalabi.

"This is one of those ... `fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me,'" said Pollack. "Chalabi has a track record. We knew this guy wasn't telling us the truth."

A defiant Chalabi said he was eager to further defend himself.

"I want to be asked to testify in the United States Senate in the Intelligence Committee. I want to do this in an open session," he says.

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