he Iraqis have thrown us another curveball.
Ahmad Chalabi -- convicted embezzler in Jordan, suspected Iranian spy, double-crosser of the United States, purveyor of phony war-instigating intelligence -- is the new acting Iraqi oil minister.
Is that why we went to war, to put the oily in charge of the oil, to set the swindler who would be Spartacus atop the ultimate gusher?
Does anybody still think the path to war wasn't greased by oil?
The neocons' con man had been paid millions by the United States to tell the Bushies what they wanted to hear on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. A year ago, the State Department and factions in the Pentagon turned on him after he began bashing this country and using Saddam Hussein's secret files to discredit his enemies.
Right after the invasion, the charlatan was escorted into Iraq by U.S. troops and cultivated an axis of Americans, Iraqis and Iranians. He got a fancy house with layers of armed guards and pulled-down shades and began helping himself to Iraqi assets. The U.S. occupation sicced the Iraqi police on his residence only after an Iraqi judge had thugs in the Chalabi posse arrested on suspicion of kidnapping, torture and theft.
Newsweek revealed that the United States suspected Chalabi of leaking secret information about U.S. war plans for Iraq to the Iranians before the invasion, and of perhaps leaking "highly classified" information to Iran that could "get people killed" if abused by the Iranians. Chalabi claimed the Iranians set him up.
In August of last year, while he was at a cabin in the Iranian mountains, the Iraqis ordered him arrested on counterfeiting charges, which were later dropped for lack of evidence.
Now, showing survival skills that make Tom DeLay look like a piker, the resourceful Thief of Baghdad has popped back up as one of the four deputy prime ministers and the interim cabinet minister controlling the one valuable commodity in that wasteland: the second-largest oil reserves after Saudi Arabia. He even has a DeLay-like talent for getting relatives on the payroll: a Chalabi nephew is the new finance minister.
Anthony Cordesman, a Middle East expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, told Reuters that many Iraqis would consider the plum job for Chalabi "putting a fox in charge of the henhouse." The choice, he added, "is going to make it extremely easy for people to make charges about corruption."
Oil isn't on the front burner only in Iraq. President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney know that time is running out to pay back the Texas buddies who sent them here with an energy bill. So the oilmen are frantically pushing one loaded with giveaways to the oil industry at a time when it's already raking in huge profits because of high gasoline prices.
Meanwhile in Baghdad, we could wind up with a one-man Enron -- never underestimate the snaky charmer. And the draconian efforts of Chalabi and other Shiites in power to purge Baathists from the government will breathe fire into the insurgency.
Bush wanted Iraq to have a democracy like ours. It's on its way, nearing an ethics-free zone where a corrupt official can hold sway and a theocracy can curb women's rights.
Another big winner in the new Iraqi cabinet is Moktada al-Sadr, the Shiite cleric who scurried away like a rat across the desert after he led two armed uprisings and caused a lot of U.S. and Iraqi troops to die. His political movement got three ministries -- health, transportation and civil society -- and Sadr allies will try to give the scofflaw cleric legal protections so he can slink back into a leadership role.
Ayad Allawi, the Shiite who was supposed to keep the government secular and bring in Sunnis to blunt the insurgency, has been marginalized. That leaves the government to be ruled by men rooted in the sort of conservative Shiite religious politics that will not produce a new dawn of equality for Iraqi women.
The new prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, is a devout Shiite from the Dawa Party. As John Burns wrote in The New York Times Friday, the Dawa Party was "fiercely anti-American during their exile years under Mr. Hussein, and Dawa was implicated by American intelligence in terrorist acts across the Middle East, including a 1983 bombing of the American Embassy in Kuwait."
The bad news: This is not an Iraqi government that will practice Athenian democracy or end the insurgency. The other bad news: If Jaafari falls, Ahmad Chalabi will be there to pick up the pieces.
Maureen Dowd is a columnist with The New York Times.
© 2005 New York Times News Service. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
© 1998-2005 Seattle Post-Intelligencer