Context — November 6, 2015, 11:00 am

Chronicle of a War Foretold

On the move with Ahmad Chalabi, the man who would be king

Published in the July 2003 issue of Harper’s Magazine, “Chronicle of a War Foretold” follows Iraqi politician Ahmad Chalabi in the first few months of 2003. The story is free to read in full through November 9. Subscribe to Harper’s Magazine for instant access to our entire 165-year archive.

[Lede]

From a New York Times report, published November 3, 2015, on the death of Ahmad Chalabi, an Iraqi politician who lobbied the United States to invade Iraq in 2003.

A mathematician with a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, Mr. Chalabi, the son of a prominent Shiite family, cultivated close ties with journalists in Washington and London; American lawmakers; the neoconservative advisers who helped shape Mr. Bush’s foreign policy; and a wide network of Iraqi exiles, many of whom were paid for intelligence about Mr. Hussein’s government.
     Mr. Chalabi’s relationship with the Americans stretched over decades. In 1998, he helped persuade Congress to pass the Iraq Liberation Act, which was signed by President Bill Clinton and declared it the policy of the United States to replace Mr. Hussein’s government with a democratic one.

A headline on a newspaper outside the Metropole Hotel, where factions of the Iraqi opposition are convening this week, declares: “Troops Start Countdown to War.” One can feel the expectation among the exiles, hundreds strong, in the hotel’s lobbies and cafes. War is coming, and on its winds they will be carried back to Iraq, where they imagine they’ll govern. But among the turbaned mullahs and dark-suited Arabs and Kurds are the men from Washington: State Department, Defense, White House, and CIA are all here, conspiring in corridors. On the fourteenth floor, George W. Bush’s special envoy to the Iraqi opposition, Zalmay Khalilzad-fresh from his king-making exercise in Afghanistan-pulls the strings of the Iraqi marionettes below.

This, a sign says, is “The Iraqi Opposition Conference, London, 14–16 December 2002. For Democracy and Salvation of Iraq.” It’s a bit of the Middle East in England, so the conference begins late and with a recitation from the Koran. On a dais before the 320 delegates are the principal figures of the Iraqi opposition: Jalal Talabani, Massoud Barzani, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, and Ahmad Chalabi. Talabani and Barzani, who represent the two main Kurdish parties, are the only Iraqis here who can be said to govern any part of their country. They fought a civil war from 1993 to 1996 and divided Iraqi Kurdistan into two, Barzani running the northwest, Talabani the southeast. Abdul Aziz al-Hakim and his older brother, Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, head the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Supported by Iran, they represent much of Shiite Muslim religious sentiment in Iraq. The fourth, Ahmad Chalabi, runs the Iraqi National Congress (INC). He represents … what he represents is not clear. He is a Shiite Muslim exile, a brilliant mathematician, a banker who was convicted in absentia of fraud in Jordan, a secular democrat, and the Iraqi whom most of the new crowd at the Pentagon like. He is also the best-dressed man here, smooth-faced and short, in a tie that is pure silk and a suit that looks Savile Row. His record of opposing Saddam Hussein, going back to when Saddam exercised power through the nominal president, Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr, is more consistent than that of any other politician. The State Department and the CIA have their own man, Iyad al-Allawi, and disparage Chalabi.

Outside, some fifty demonstrators chant and hold signs: “Bush and Blair Will Murder Thousands for Oil” and “We Demand an End to Western Interference in the Islamic WorId.”

Read the full story here.

Share
Single Page

More from Charles Glass:

From the February 2019 issue

“Tell Me How This Ends”

America’s muddled involvement with Syria

From the September 2017 issue

All the Last Wars

Around the world with the Goya of conflict photography

From the February 2016 issue

Disunified Front

The chaotic, underfunded battle against the Islamic State

Get access to 168 years of
Harper’s for only $23.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

February 2019

Without a Trace

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

What China Threat?

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Going to Extremes

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Tell Me How This Ends”

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
What China Threat?·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Within about fifteen years, China’s economy will surpass America’s and become the largest in the world. As this moment approaches, meanwhile, a consensus has formed in Washington that China poses a significant threat to American interests and well-­being. General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), has said that “China probably poses the greatest threat to our nation by about 2025.” The summary of America’s 2018 National Defense Strategy claims that China and Russia are “revisionist powers” seeking to “shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model—gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions.” Christopher Wray, the FBI director, has said, “One of the things we’re trying to do is view the China threat as not just a whole-­of-­government threat, but a whole-­of-­society threat . . . and I think it’s going to take a whole-­of-­society response by us.” So widespread is this notion that when Donald Trump launched his trade war against China, in January 2018, he received support even from moderate figures such as Democratic senator Chuck Schumer.

Shanghai Broadcasting Building, by Cui Jie (detail) © The artist. Courtesy private collection
Article
Without a Trace·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In December 2015, a twenty-­two-year-­old man named Masood Hotak left his home in Kabul, Afghanistan, and set out for Europe. For several weeks, he made his way through the mountains of Iran and the rolling plateaus of Turkey. When he reached the city of Izmir, on the Turkish coast, Masood sent a text message to his elder brother Javed, saying he was preparing to board a boat to Greece. Since the start of the journey, Javed, who was living in England, had been keeping tabs on his younger brother’s progress. As Masood got closer to the sea, Javed had felt increasingly anxious. Winter weather on the Aegean was unpredictable, and the ramshackle crafts used by the smugglers often sank. Javed had even suggested Masood take the longer, overland route, through Bulgaria, but his brother had dismissed the plan as excessively cautious.

Finally, on January 3, 2016, to Javed’s immense relief, Masood sent a series of celebratory Facebook messages announcing his arrival in Europe. “I reached Greece bro,” he wrote. “Safe. Even my shoes didn’t get wet.” Masood reported that his boat had come ashore on the island of Samos. In a few days, he planned to take a ferry to the Greek mainland, after which he would proceed across the European continent to Germany.

But then, silence. Masood stopped writing. At first, Javed was unworried. His brother, he assumed, was in the island’s detention facility, waiting to be sent to Athens with hundreds of other migrants. Days turned into weeks. Every time Javed tried Masood’s phone, the call went straight to voicemail. After a month passed with no word, it dawned on Javed that his brother was missing.

A screenshot of a December 2015 Facebook post by Masood Hotak (left), in Istanbul
Article
Going to Extremes·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

When Philip Benight awoke on January 26, 2017, he saw a bright glow. “Son of a bitch, there is a light,” he thought. He hoped it meant he had died. His mind turned to his wife, Becky: “Where are you?” he thought. “We have to go to the light.” He hoped Becky had died, too. Then he lost consciousness. When he opened his eyes again, Philip realized he wasn’t seeing heaven but overhead fluorescents at Lancaster General Hospital. He was on a hospital bed, with his arms restrained and a tube down his throat, surrounded by staff telling him to relax. He passed out again. The next time he came to, his arms and legs were free, but a drugged heaviness made it hard to move. A nurse told him that his wife was at another hospital—“for her safety”—even though she was also at Lancaster General. Soon after, two police officers arrived. They wanted to know why Becky was in a coma.

Three days earlier, Philip, who was sixty, tall and lanky, with owlish glasses and mustache, had picked up his wife from an HCR ­ManorCare nursing home. Becky had been admitted to the facility recently at the age of seventy-­two after yet another series of strokes. They drove to Darrenkamp’s grocery store and Philip bought their dinner, a special turkey sandwich for Becky, with the meat shaved extra thin. They ate in the car. Then, like every other night, they got ice cream from Burger King and drove to their home in Conestoga, a sparse hamlet in southern Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Philip parked in the driveway, and they sat in the car looking out at the fields that roll down to the Susquehanna River.

They listened to the radio until there was nothing more to do. Philip went into the house and retrieved a container of Kraft vanilla pudding, which he’d mixed with all the drugs he could find in the house—Valium, Klonopin, Percocet, and so on. He opened the passenger-­side door and knelt beside Becky. He held a spoon, and she guided it to her mouth. When Becky had eaten all the pudding, he got back into the driver’s seat and swallowed a handful of pills. Philip asked her how the pudding tasted. “Like freedom,” she said. As they lost consciousness, the winter chill seeped into their clothes and skin.

Illustration by Leigh Wells (detail)
Article
“Tell Me How This Ends”·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

America in the Middle East: learning curves are for pussies.
—Jon Stewart, The Daily Show, June 2, 2015

In January 2017, following Donald Trump’s inauguration, his national security staffers entered their White House offices for the first time. One told me that when he searched for the previous administration’s Middle East policy files, the cupboard was bare. “There wasn’t an overarching strategy document for anywhere in the Middle East,” the senior official, who insisted on anonymity, told me in a coffee shop near the White House. “Not even on the ISIS campaign, so there wasn’t a cross-governmental game plan.”

Syrian Arab Red Crescent vehicles in eastern Ghouta, March 24, 2018 (detail) © Anas Alkharboutli/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Amount Arizona’s Red Feather Lodge offered to pay to reopen the Grand Canyon during the 2013 government shutdown:

$25,000

In England, a flutist stole 299 rare bird skins from an ornithology museum in order to pay for a new flute.

The 70th governor of Ohio was sworn in on nine Bibles, which were held by his wife.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Happiness Is a Worn Gun

By

Illustration by Stan Fellows

Illustration by Stan Fellows

“Nowadays, most states let just about anybody who wants a concealed-handgun permit have one; in seventeen states, you don’t even have to be a resident. Nobody knows exactly how many Americans carry guns, because not all states release their numbers, and even if they did, not all permit holders carry all the time. But it’s safe to assume that as many as 6 million Americans are walking around with firearms under their clothes.”

Subscribe Today