Chalabi, the Pizza Guy and the Arming of Iraq

Gen George Casey's recent prediction that Iraqi troops will be ready to take over security duties in 18 months or so would be more reassuring if there was a track record of success. But there isn't.

As I was writing Blood Money, it became apparent that the inability to get Iraqi cops and soldiers trained and equipped sooner was perhaps the great failure of all. The problems would be comical if the results weren't so tragic. Thousands of American soldiers and contractors have died doing jobs that the Iraqis were supposed to be doing.

In the first summer, the U.S. handed over training of the police to companies like DynCorp. The courses lasted all of three weeks--as if that would be enough time to teach anybody to handle a gun and the rule of law, much less how to be a police officer. Manicure salon nail technicians get more training than that.

Then there was the equipment issue. The U.S. could have sold and or given weapons directly to the Iraqis. Instead, the Coalition Provisional Authority contracted the job out. The winner was an unknown company called Nour USA run by an old friend of Ahmed Chalabi--a politically connected Washington businessman named A. Huda Farouki. Controversy erupted over the award, the whole contract was withdrawn and rebid--only to be won again by Farouki, this time running a new consortium called ANHAM. The confusion and controversy caused months of delay and frustrated Gen. Charles Swannack, who complained in March 2004 that there were only a handful of vehicles available to patrol the porous Iraqi border.

It was only a few months after that when the U.S. appointed Ziad Cattan to head up the Iraqi weapons buying effort. Cattan was an Iraqi who had immigrated to Poland, where he sold pizzas and used cars, among other things. But as he told me and a colleague later, he had never sold weapons. Cattan was later named in an Iraqi audit as being involved in a serious of suspicious deals. The audit found that almost $2 billion couldn't be accounted for--and Iraqi officials told us that much of the money had gone to purchase shoddy weapons and substandard helmets, radios and other equipment. Cattan, who claims innocence on his impressively musical website, returned to Poland after the Iraqis issued an arrest warrant for him.

This is all a long way of saying that the Pentagon has been saying for three years that they are training and equipping Iraqi soldiers to replace U.S. soldiers. It hasn't happened yet. And there are no signs the future will be any different.