March 14, 2003
WASHINGTONPolling of Iraqi exiles by the Washington-based Council For a New Iraq found that by a wide margin, Ahmed Chalabi could expect to become the democratically elected president of Iraq following an American invasion. In a two-man race with dissident and fellow exile Kanan Makiya, Chalabi won by a solid 20-point margin.
"This doesn't surprise us in the least," said a Defense Department democracy expert, who could not be named because he did not have permission to speak with the press about possible elections in Iraq before the war had even begun. "Chalabi is a force to be reckoned with on the Iraqi political scene."
The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. The Council noted in its technical appendix that pollsters were unable to contact Iraqis in Iraq, nor determine what potential candidates might put themselves in the running assuming both that American forces invade and depose the current ruler, Saddam Hussein.
Mr. Chalabi, a London-based former banker, is the founder of the Iraqi National Congress, an exile opposition group dedicated to the removal of Mr. Hussein from power. While he has not been to Iraq outside of the Kurdish-controlled region in the north in over 45 years, experts say that he has a powerful network of supporters among regular Iraqis, as well as some key officials inside the Hussein government.
"Chalabi's political skills are formidable," said Skipper Hanson, a fellow at the neoconservative think tank, the Program for the American Millennium. "He's extremely well-connected and really knows how to mobilize his supporters."
For years, Mr. Chalabi has been aiding the White House and the Defense Department in their search for intelligence regarding Saddam Hussein's programs to develop weapons of mass destruction. Some in the State Department and Central Intelligence Agency have questioned the accuracy of his information, criticism administration officials dismiss as "sour grapes."
Leading writers in the neoconservative movement have hailed him as "the George Washington of Iraq," "the president-in-waiting," and "a democratic visionary." Mr. Chalabi won 60 percent of the vote, compared with just 40 percent supporting Mr. Makiya. The survey had a sample size of 200 potential Iraqi voters in Europe and the United States.