Iraqi political figure Ahmed Chalabi, strong advocate of 2003 Iraq invasion, is dead at 71


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(CNN) — Ahmed Chalabi, a leading Iraqi political figure and a vociferous advocate of the 2003 U.S. invasion against Saddam Hussein, has died of a heart attack, a senior Iraqi military official said Tuesday.

He was 71.

A colorful and charismatic politician, Chalabi served in a variety of senior posts in the post-invasion Iraqi government. But his image in the West was tainted by his role in providing intelligence to the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush about Saddam’s supposed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program.

Information he fed to U.S. officials influenced the Bush administration’s decision to go to war. Even after weapons inspectors concluded Saddam had ended his WMD program years before the invasion, Chalabi continued to deny he’d supplied false intelligence.

“I respond by saying it’s always more important to look to the future than to the past,” he said during a visit to Washington in 2005.

Long campaign against Saddam’s regime

A Shiite Muslim, Chalabi spent years plotting and lobbying in exile to bring about Saddam’s downfall. He founded the Iraqi National Congress, an umbrella organization for Iraqi opposition groups, in 1992.

The year after the invasion, he attended George W. Bush’s State of the Union address, sitting with first lady Laura Bush.

But his reputation in Washington began to suffer as the WMD claims unraveled. And in 2004, U.S. intelligence officials accused him of leaking top-secret information about American code-breaking capabilities to Iran — allegations he denied.

He continued to wield power and influence in Iraq, holding the posts of deputy prime minister and oil minister. Last year, his name was mentioned as a possible successor to former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

On Tuesday, Chalabi’s satellite channel aired a steady stream of images of him with a black stripe across the screen.

Convicted of fraud over bank collapse

Born in Baghdad on October 30, 1944, Chalabi was the son of one of Iraq’s wealthiest men. His father, Abdul Hadi Chalabi, was a president of the Iraqi Senate before the family went into exile following a military coup in 1958.

Chalabi taught mathematics at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon before he embarked on a career in finance.

He opened Petra Bank in Jordan in 1977. But the venture eventually ended in chaos and acrimony.

The bank collapsed in 1990. Chalabi left for London and was sentenced in absentia by a Jordanian court to 22 years in prison with hard labor on fraud charges.

He accused Jordan of smearing him, saying he exposed the country’s weapons-dealing with Saddam.

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