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Chalabi blames Tenet for feud with U.S.

Former Iraqi exile denies sending secret information to Iran

Ahmed Chalabi: "We believe that the Congress is the place to resolve this issue, and I think our record will be cleared."
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Iraqi Governing Council member Ahmed Chalabi rebuked CIA claims.
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Ahmed Chalabi
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
George J. Tenet

(CNN) -- Ahmed Chalabi, the former Iraqi exile who worked closely with the White House before the Iraq war, blamed CIA Director George Tenet Sunday for recent allegations that have apparently caused his standing with the Bush administration to plummet.

Speaking on CNN's "Late Edition," Chalabi also denied sending classified information to Iran, as has been alleged by the United States.

"We never provided any classified information from the U.S. to Iran -- neither I nor anyone in the INC [Iraqi National Congress]," he said.

"That is a charge being put out by George Tenet. I say let him bring all his charges, all his documents. We also will bring all our charges and all our documents to the U.S. Congress, and let Congress have hearings and resolve this issue," Chalabi said.

"We believe that the Congress is the place to resolve this issue, and I think our record will be cleared."

Chalabi, a member of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, said his tension with Tenet dates back a decade. He described a "feud" between Tenet and the INC's intelligence chief, Aras Karim Habib.

U.S. intelligence officials said Friday that Chalabi gave Iran intelligence secrets so closely held that only "a handful" of senior U.S. officials knew them. (Full story)

The Iraqi National Congress, which Chalabi heads, is a group of dissidents that pushed for a U.S.-led war to topple Saddam Hussein and contributed to U.S. intelligence-gathering efforts.

Chalabi acknowledged having met with senior Iranian officials, saying his organization has worked with many leaders in the region.

But he insisted he shared no classified information with them. Indeed, he told ABC's "This Week," the United States "gave us no classified information at any time."

On CNN, Chalabi also firmly defended Habib, who is sought by U.S. authorities. Time magazine cited U.S. officials as saying Habib passed classified U.S. intelligence to Iran.

"Aras Karim is an Iraqi patriot," Chalabi said. "His job as intelligence chief is to meet with intelligence officers. To call him a traitor and that he passed information is egregious and false, and Aras will also come to provide testimony, sworn testimony to Congress."

On Thursday, Iraqi police, accompanied by U.S. troops, raided Chalabi's compound in Baghdad. U.S. officials said the raid was conducted by Iraqi authorities and forwarded all questions about the matter to Iraqi leadership.

Chalabi told "Late Edition" he believes the raid "was organized and ordered by Americans, and they used Iraqi police working under their direction."

Rend al-Rahim, Iraq's representative to the United States, told "Late Edition" that the Iraqi Governing Council has not determined who ordered the raid.

"They are very upset about this. It demonstrates an incredible lack of respect for the governing council," al-Rahim said.

Tension with Tenet

Chalabi said tension with Tenet goes back to 1994, when Tenet argued that "the way to remove [former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein] was through a coup. We said no; a war of national liberation, assisted by the United States, is the way to move forward.

"And he [Tenet] tried many coups, and we exposed the fact that he was wrong publicly, after he failed, and we sometimes warned the CIA in private about the possibility of failure. ... ... The feud with Aras [Habib] goes back a long way."

Some lawmakers complain that Chalabi's group, which received more than $30 million from the U.S. government, knowingly provided the United States with false information about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction in hopes of triggering a war to oust Saddam.

Chalabi told CNN, "We never provided false information, or indeed any kind of information. What we provided was defectors."

In May 2001, U.S. intelligence agencies requested his group's help in gathering information, and the INC led them to three defectors who "we believed knew about weapons of mass destruction," Chalabi said.

"They interrogated them. ... It is not our responsibility to verify this information. It is blame-shifting, again, by the CIA," he said.

Chalabi said it was "outlandish" to believe that "an exile organization, which was criticized and vilified by the CIA throughout the past decade, would provide information and the United States officials would take it as credible and go to war on its basis. That is ridiculous."

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