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Outside View: Ali Baba and the Israelis
Youssef M. Ibrahim - Washington Times - Thu 8th, July 2004
Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Jul. 6 (UPI) -- There is a new version of the old tale Ali Baba and the 40 thieves playing in Iraq, a theater near you. If it were not true, one would have thought its authors must have swallowed a half-dozen LSD hallucination pills to spin such a tale.

Among the new thieves are Israelis, Americans and Arabs. Indeed, the Israelis have finally made it to Baghdad, helped along the way by a trio: the infamous Chalabi clan, the Pentagon and the government of new free Iraq. But let us begin with the mind-bending spins that set the stage for these new Ali Babas to do what they are doing and get away with it.

A couple of weeks ago, L. Paul Bremer III, the American proconsul who has ruled Iraq for more than a year, suddenly speeded up the handover of power to Iraqis. By all accounts Bremer was perfectly sober when he announced in something of a secret ceremony that Iraq was a free country, noting, however, that the 140,000 American occupation soldiers will stay behind a while -- maybe five years or so.

He then hurried with his bags out of Saddam's old palace in Baghdad onto an unannounced flight for the United States, skipping the celebration of this historic event. There were no balloons, flags, parades, songs and celebrations that such a sea change deserves. Never mind. This gets better.

The new independent government of Iraq to which Bremer handed over power will be free to ask the Americans to leave, but Bremer noted he did not expect them to do so. Instead, free Iraq will be guided by the largest American embassy in the world, staffed by 3,000 diplomats!

That is a lot of advice from a lot of diplomats for a free country.

Another minor detail skipped over in this spin fairy tale by Bremer was that the "independent" government he appointed for Iraq was selected, not elected.

Its prime minister, Iyad Allawi, was until last year on the payroll of the CIA and has spent the last 30 years outside the country he governs. If they expect you to swallow this fairy tale as gospel truth, you're now ready for the next chapter.

In come the new Ali Babas: Israelis teaming up with the Chalabis and the neo-conservative businessmen cabal that runs the Pentagon, holding the purse to reconstruct Iraq.

The arrival of the Israelis in Iraq is being orchestrated by one Salem Chalabi, 41, the executive director of the tribunal before which Saddam Hussein, Tariq Aziz and other former Iraqi regime officials appeared last Thursday.

He also happens to be the nephew of the now widely discredited Ahmed Chalabi, once the Pentagon's favorite boy for the leadership of Iraq who has since fallen out of favor but still has his tentacles all over Iraq.

The nephew, it turns out, is even better than his uncle -- or worse, depending on where you stand. He teamed up with a well-known Israeli militant hard-line Likud party member called Mark Zell, a leader of the Gush Emunim Israeli colonists' movement.

Together, the two formed a company in Iraq to work on reconstruction. For years, Zell has been a driving force behind the "acquisition" of Palestinian land in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to build Jewish colonies on them.

He is also close friend and former business partner of none other than Douglas Feith, the U.S. undersecretary of Defense for policy who reports directly to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the man with the last word on how money is spent in Iraq.

As recounted by several Iraqi businessmen who have been fleeced by the Chalabi-Israeli-Pentagon trio, and splurged over the front page in the July 2 issue of the Saudi-owned, London-based Al Hayat newspaper, Salem and Zell called their new Iraqi company "Iraq Law International" (Al Iraq Al Qanouniya Al Dawliya, in Arabic). It describes its mission, according to Al Hayat, as "a boutique investment firm specialized in the new Iraq."

Zell, on the other hand, formed an American company in Washington called Goldberg & Co. Its stated goal is "to assist American companies in forming relationships with the American government in the context of projects to rebuild the new Iraq," according to Al Hayat.

The newspaper and several Iraqi businessmen interviewed separately say Zell and the young Chalabi have already secured several hundred million dollars worth of projects, thanks to Feith's discreet help, in the new Iraq.

It never ceases to amaze me how some people have absolutely no sense of shame, or as my Jewish friends would say, "chutzpa," which stands for gall. If ever there were a superbly organized three-card con game, this has got to be it.

On the other hand, just to be fair, one can always believe all these good men, including the Israeli colonies' czar, Zell, are only looking for what is best for Free Iraq. And, hey, Ali Babas are businessmen too.

(Youssef M. Ibrahim, a former Middle East correspondent for the New York Times and Energy Editor of the Wall Street Journal, is Managing Director of the Dubai-based Strategic Energy Investment Group. He wrote this column for the Gulf News. He can be contacted at ymibrahim@gulfnews.com
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