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Iraq Policy Derailed by U.S. Infighting over Chalabi

Plans for establishing a new Iraqi government were complicated by the role of Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi and his troubled relationships with various U.S. agencies, a former Bush administration official says.

"Antagonism to him actually wound up having a major effect on the shaping of U.S. policy," says Douglas Feith, an architect of the war in Iraq.

The perception of the U.S. presence in Iraq as an occupying force rather than as a liberating force also helped pave the way for a homegrown insurgency, says Feith, a former undersecretary of defense for policy and author of a new book, War and Decision.


Feith says that Chalabi had a "longstanding bad relationship" with the CIA and several people at the State Department. What's more, he explains, the State Department and the National Security Council were at odds over how to deal with him.

"I did not ever try to push Chalabi as the leader of Iraq," Feith tells Steve Inskeep. He says that both of the officials responsible for the political transition in Iraq — retired Army Lieutenant General Jay Garner and civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer — also testified that they were never told to "anoint" Chalabi.

Feith says that in early 2002 Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage called for a political conference to discuss establishing a post-Saddam Hussein Iraqi government. But Armitage, Feith says, did not invite Chalabi — a policy decision that was at odds with the NSC and the White House, which didn't want the U.S. engaged in cherry-picking Iraqi political leaders.

Lack of consistency in handling the U.S. relationship with Chalabi also made it more difficult to engage Iraqis in both political and military planning.

"Looking back, we had serious problems in Iraq, but 14 months later – after we had run the country as an occupying power — we had a full blown insurgency," Feith says. "I think the idea of setting ourselves up as the occupying power for over a year was a mistake, and I think it helped stimulate many Iraqis to believe that they had to fight us to get us out of the country."


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