Sunday, November 23, 2003

Somebody Exhumed the Quinnster

The Man Who Would Succeed Saddam
Ahmed Chalabi's First Big Political Test? Surviving Washington.
By Sally Quinn
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 24, 2003; Page C01

Ahmed Chalabi, a leading candidate to head Iraq's new government, is making the rounds on Capitol Hill. He can barely contain his glee. He is doing what he loves most and what he does best -- lobbying the U.S. government for his cause, Iraq. As rotating president of the Iraqi Governing Council this September morning, he is going for grants, not loans. He smiles a knowing smile. He's got this baby in the bag. But then, he always does. That's what makes his detractors crazy -- and his supporters so loyal. Never, they say, underestimate Ahmed Chalabi. It is always a mistake.

At first glance, Chalabi is an unassuming man, 59 years old, slightly overweight, balding, conservatively dressed in a dark suit. But it's his eyes and his eyebrows that draw attention. One eyebrow seems permanently raised, as though he is sharing his secret only with you. A fellow Arab acquaintance describes him as "from the bazaar," and you can envision him, his eyes gleaming, negotiating with you. Partly it is for fun, for love of the game. But the part about the money is deadly serious.

This morning he's already met with 50 Senate Republicans. "They applauded when I came in," he reports proudly. "Senator Santorum said that he had been defending me to the president so much that the president started calling him 'Ahmed.' "