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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By Stephen Kalin and Saif Hameed

BAGHDAD (Reuters) — Ahmed Chalabi, the smooth-talking Iraqi politician who pushed Washington to invade Iraq in 2003 with discredited information on Saddam Hussein’s military capabilities, died on Tuesday of an apparent heart attack.

Haitham al-Jabouri, secretary of parliament’s financial panel that Chalabi had chaired, said attendants had found him dead in his bed in his Baghdad home. A news flash on Iraqi state television said the cause was a heart attack.

A secular Shi’ite, Chalabi rose to prominence as leader of the then-exiled Iraqi National Congress, which played a major role in encouraging the U.S. administration of former President George W. Bush to invade Iraq and oust Saddam.

“There are some people who will remember him in a good way, and there are others, to be honest, do not like and did not want his politics,” said former prime minister Ayad Allawi.

“But regardless, Iraq lost a man who had an important contribution, important commitments towards the nation and he tried to offer what he could to this country.”

Chalabi, born in 1944 into a wealthy Baghdad family, returned to Iraq shortly after Saddam’s fall, the culmination of years of work abroad pressing and charming Washington to oust the man who ruled Iraq with an iron fist for decades.

He ultimately succeeded by persuading the United States that Saddam Hussein had links to al Qaeda and possessed weapons of mass destruction in the wake of the September 11 attacks, claims that later proved unfounded.

After the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, he could often be seen in Baghdad flanked by dozens of bodyguards as he forged ties with political figures and powerful clerics.

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Once viewed in Washington as its preferred future Iraqi leader, he lost favor among his American benefactors amid accusations that he had passed information to arch-foe Iran.

“He pursued all roads in order to achieve a goal he believed in, which was overthrowing the oppressive regime of Saddam and build a civil state,” said Mithal Alusi, a secular lawmaker. “He followed any path possible, be it accepted or not.”

Chalabi was later charged with leading the purge of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party, a move that would prove costly.

Al Qaeda capitalized on the security vacuum that followed, triggering a sectarian civil war with attacks on the majority Shi’ite population that would plunge Iraq into chaos for years.

At one point, Chalabi’s name was floated as a candidate for prime minister after he managed to skillfully navigate Iraq’s Byzantine politics and forge alliances with the most powerful forces of the day.

But he never managed to rise to the top of Iraq’s sectarian-driven politics. His fallout with his former American allies also hurt his chances of leading Iraq.

“Everyone was against him and accused him of being an agent, but they all secretly approached him and sought for him to be their bridge to the Americans,” said Alusi.

Chalabi’s career was checkered. A former top banker, he was convicted of embezzlement by a court in Jordan and sentenced in absentia to more than 20 years in prison.

His tainted reputation never curbed his ambitions.

In the last few months, Chalabi had been working on an investigation into alleged irregularities in banking transactions in Iraq, a close associate told Reuters.

He held regular discussions about Iraq with academics, political supporters, friends and journalists who gathered at his home, styled after houses by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright and featuring a large swimming pool.

Senior politician Muwaffaq Rubaie, who said Chalabi was in good health when they last met over the weekend, described him as “a frighteningly intelligent guy”.

(Additional reporting by Hadeel Al Sayegh in Dubai; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

Photo: Iraqi Secular Shiite lawmaker Ahmed Chalabi speaks during a news conference in Baghdad, July 15, 2014. REUTERS/Ahmed Saad

Many Democrats are getting nervous about the upcoming presidential election. Ominous, extensively reported articles by two of the best in the business—the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin and The Atlantic's Barton Gellman—outline Boss Trump's plot to keep control of the White House in 2021 no matter how the American people vote.
Trump is hardly making a secret of it. He's pointedly refused to commit to "a peaceful transfer of power."

"Well, we're going to have to see what happens," is how he answered the question. He added that after we "get rid of the ballots"—presumably mail-in ballots he's been whining about for weeks--"there won't be a transfer, frankly. There'll be a continuation."

Of course, Trump himself has always voted by mail, but then brazen hypocrisy is his standard operating mode. If you haven't noticed, he also lies a lot. Without prevaricating, boasting, and bitching, he'd be mute. And even then, he'd still have Twitter. He recently tweeted that the winner "may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED" because mail-in ballots make it a "RIGGED ELECTION in waiting."
Gellman gets this part exactly right in The Atlantic: "Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.
"Trump's invincible commitment to this stance will be the most important fact about the coming Interregnum. It will deform the proceedings from beginning to end. We have not experienced anything like it before."
No, we haven't. However, it's important to remember that Trump makes threats and promises almost daily that never happen. Remember that gigantic border wall Mexico was going to pay for? Trump has built exactly five miles of the fool thing, leaving roughly two thousand to go.
His brilliant cheaper, better health care plan? Non-existent.
On Labor Day, Boss Trump boasted of his unparalleled success in strong-arming Japan into building new auto-manufacturing plants. "They're being built in Ohio, they're being built in South Carolina, North Carolina, they're being built all over and expanded at a level that we've never seen before."
Not a word of that is true. Two new plants, one German, another Swedish have opened in South Carolina, but construction began before Trump took office. Auto industry investment during Barack Obama's second term far exceeded Trump's. His version is sheer make-believe.
But back to the GOP scheme to steal the election.
First, it's clear that even Trump understands that he has virtually no chance of winning the national popular vote. He's been polling in the low 40s, with no sign of change. To have any chance of prevailing in the Electoral College, he's got to do the electoral equivalent of drawing to an inside straight all over again—winning a half-dozen so-called battleground states where he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by the narrowest of margins.
At this writing, that looks highly unlikely. The latest polling in must-win Pennsylvania, for example, shows Trump trailing Joe Biden by nine points. That's a landslide. Trump's down ten in Wisconsin, eight in Michigan. And so on.
So spare me the screeching emails in ALL CAPS, OK? Polls were actually quite accurate in 2016. Trump narrowly defeated the odds. It can happen. But he's in far worse shape this time. Furthermore, early voting turnout is very high, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans two to one.
Hence, The Atlantic reports, "Trump's state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for post-election maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states."
The plan is clear. Because more Democrats than Republicans are choosing mail-in voting during the COVID pandemic, Trump hopes to prevent those ballots from being counted. Assuming he'll have a narrow "swing state" lead on election night, he'll declare victory and start filing lawsuits. "The red mirage," some Democrats call it.
"As a result," Toobin writes, "the aftermath of the 2020 election has the potential to make 2000 look like a mere skirmish." With Trump in the White House urging armed militias to take to the street.
Mail-in votes take a long time to count. Things could definitely get crazy.
True, but filing a lawsuit to halt a Florida recount was one thing. Filing suits against a half dozen states to prevent votes from being counted at all is quite another. Public reaction would be strong. Also, winning such lawsuits requires serious evidence of fraud. Trumpian bluster ain't evidence.
The Atlantic reports that GOP-controlled state legislatures are thinking about sending Trumpist delegations to the Electoral College regardless of the popular vote winner—theoretically constitutional but currently illegal.
Fat chance. If that's the best they've got, they've got nothing.
Anyway, here's the answer: Vote early, and in person*.

[Editor's note: In some states, receiving an absentee ballot means that a voter can no longer vote in person* or may have to surrender the absentee ballot, including the envelope in which it arrived, at their polling place. Please check with your local election authorities.]