Watch Live: The Washington Ideas Forum 2014

Ahmed Chalabi: WMD Were 'Marginal' to Iraq Invasion

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Former Iraqi leader Ahmed Chalabi, who served as President of the Governing Council of Iraq immediately after the U.S. invasion he helped organize, said at the Washington Ideas Forum that he still feels the 2003 invasion was worthwhile.

"Getting rid of Saddam was certainly justified," he told Washington Post columnist Sally Quinn in their conversation at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. He said of his famously influential support for the war, "We were concerned about Saddam's oppression." He added when Quinn asked about the alleged weapons of mass destruction that never materialized, "The weapons of mass destruction was to our view a marginal issue."

Quinn introduced Chalabi, whom she famously profiled as "The Man Who Would Succeed Saddam" in 2003, as "rejected by your political system, rejected by the American political system." In the years after working closely with the Bush administration in support of the invasion and then briefly serving as president of the country's U.S.-dominated provisional government, Chalabi has been vilified in both countries for his role. His many critics accuse him of misleading the U.S. into war by providing intelligence that Saddam Hussein's Iraq aided al-Qaeda and possessed weapons of mass destruction, both central rationales for the invasion for which evidence has never materialized.
Washington Ideas Forum
Discussing his fall from favor in the U.S., Quinn suggested, "You have been essentially blamed by the CIA." Chalabi responded that "There was a great game of blame-shifting" after the invasion and occupation of Iraq fell apart. He said that he no longer has a relationship with the CIA. Chalabi, asked by Quinn about the alleged weapons of mass destruction, carefully refused to admit fault or to say that he stood by his 2003 claims.

Quinn also noted that Chalabi has been besieged by accusations that he is an Iranian agent sent to Washington to facilitate the removal of Saddam Hussein, then Iran's worst enemy. Chalabi denied the charge when Quinn, laughing at the question, asked him if he worked for Iran. However, when Quinn pushed for Chalabi to denounce Iran's behavior, he replied, "My relationship with the Iranians is close and they are our neighbors." He said he wanted to avoid conflict and promote cooperation between Iran and Iraq. Chalabi resisted when Quinn prodded him to criticize Iran, pushing against her suggestion that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a "crazy person." He responded, "I don't think he's a crazy person. I think he's a smart man." Chalabi deflected Quinn's criticism of Ahmadinejad's recent accusation at the United Nations General Assembly that the U.S. caused Sept. 11, a view that Chalabi called "nonsense" but "prevalent in the region."

When asked about Turkey's recent turn towards a democratically elected but more strongly Islamic government, Chalabi said, "Turkey is a good model to follow." When Quinn protested, he countered, "The Turkish people are opting for an identity that does not deny their Islamic roots."

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Max Fisher is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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