RAY SUAREZ: Scott Wilson, welcome. As far as you've been able to determine, who came to raid Ahmad Chalabi's office, and what were they looking for?
SCOTT WILSON: Well, it happened this morning in an upscale neighborhood in Baghdad. It was Iraqi police and quite a few U.S. troops; some witnesses said as many as 100. They first visited Dr. Chalabi at his home and went inside there. They were searching for people, is what witnesses said. They later went to the offices of the Iraqi National Congress, which is a coalition of parties that Dr. Chalabi heads.
Again, Iraqi police went inside, raided offices, took computers, weapons, files, searching for people, but apparently didn't find any, and then moved on to the party's intelligence headquarters and did the same thing there. They seemed to be looking for eight people, including Dr. Chalabi's head of security and intelligence, and... but so far they have not found them. The U.S. and British officials announced that they were looking at charges ranging from kidnapping and fraud and other matters, they said. So there's something of a manhunt going on now.
RAY SUAREZ: Ahmad Chalabi calls himself America's best friend in Iraq. Is that status questionable now?
SCOTT WILSON: Well, what his aides were saying today is Ahmad Chalabi is the best friend of people who support Iraq, and they pointedly left out the fact that they think that the United States supports Iraq or not. So there has been a very big breech here between someone that the Pentagon once thought would lead postwar Iraq, and Dr. Chalabi is furious, and has been really for several weeks. He's been one of the most strident critics of U.S. policy here, from security issues to not moving fast enough to turn over the country to an interim Iraqi government, which the United States intends to do next month, and so he really has become kind of a leading critic here. And this is just the latest and really the most striking example of how that friendship has soured over the past year of a pretty difficult occupation here in Iraq.
RAY SUAREZ: For all the souring of the friendship, does it also give a man who wants to be relevant in a post-turnover Iraq some distance from his American sponsors?
SCOTT WILSON: It's a good point, and in the months leading up to this moment, a lot of people had viewed Dr. Chalabi's increasing criticism to that, positioning for a strong place in a postwar Iraq by turning against the occupation that's becoming increasingly unpopular among many Iraqis.
The fact is that Dr. Chalabi was never popular here to begin with. He lived in exile for a long time, opposed Saddam Hussein from exile, and when he returned, found that very few people thought he was all that credible a leader. And so this is his way, I think, of getting back in the game. What today means is unclear because there are criminal charges surrounding some of his top advisors now, and so independence is one thing, but part of this may have to do with corruption charges -- stealing money from the Iraqi treasury over a currency exchange system that was put in place in April. So that would probably be looked on very dimly by the Iraqi people if that were... if that turned out to be true.
RAY SUAREZ: In addition to political support, wasn't Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress getting money from the United States?
SCOTT WILSON: Well, they were until recently. They've received about $27 million from the United States over the past four years. This is because, again, the Pentagon looked to them as the leading opposition party to Saddam Hussein, and funded them accordingly. But the Defense Intelligence Agency, an arm of the Pentagon, had been giving them about $340,000 a month over the past year at least, and they decided just this month to cut that stipend off. And so this began something that has picked up rapidly over the last couple of weeks into this bitter sort of standoff. So they're receiving no more money from the United States anymore, and so Dr. Chalabi feels pretty well free to say whatever he wants about them at this point.
RAY SUAREZ: You mentioned that he didn't have much political support at home in Iraq, but in recent weeks he's taken very vocal stands against, for instance, the Brahimi process for the turnover, opening the door a crack to old Baath Party members being part of the new Iraq. Have these stands gained him some following on the ground in his native country?
SCOTT WILSON: It's hard to say because there really is no polling or anything like that done here to any significant degree. The Americans do some polling here, but what's clear is that he is taking a position that is very much in line with Iraqi sentiment at this point. He's not saying things that are all that different from potentially rivalist politicians, so he's not separating himself from others who really are saying very much the same thing: Quicker turnover, much more security.
Dr. Chalabi was -- condemning U.S. security policy in the wake of the assassination of the governing council president just three days ago. And so he is taking positions, but these are positions really shared by almost all of his colleagues, and so it's hard to know whether this is really going to separate himself from a pack of people looking for a big place in the post-occupation government.
RAY SUAREZ: There have also been more sinister whisperings about opening channels to the government in Iran, for instance. Have there been any truths demonstrated, anything more substantial demonstrated about that Iran-Chalabi connection?
SCOTT WILSON: Well, it's hard to know. I mean, Dr. Chalabi has rejected it. U.S. officials are whispering, as you put it, that there have been some inappropriate sharing of intelligence with the Iranian government, a government the U.S. considers a state sponsor of terrorism. Dr. Chalabi is a Shiite, but a very moderate one. Iran is predominantly Shiite, and their government is an Islamic government run by Shiite clerics. And so there are connections like that to be made, but Dr. Chalabi really has shown no affinity towards Iran before, and this would be something of a departure. It's unclear whether or not it's happening, but if there is proof and the United States has found it, it would truly be the end of any kind of relationship with him, most likely.
RAY SUAREZ: Scott Wilson of The Washington Post from Baghdad. Thanks a lot, Scott.
SCOTT WILSON: Thank you.