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Iraqi Defense Minister Vows to Arrest Chalabi - 2005-01-22


Iraq's defense minister says he intends to arrest Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi for defamation, in a widening dispute about corruption allegations involving senior figures in the interim government.

Mr. Chalabi, one of Iraq's most prominent political figures, has raised questions about Defense Minister Hazim al-Shalan's involvement in a controversial transfer of 300 million dollars in cash from Baghdad to Lebanon, reportedly to purchase weapons and military equipment for Iraqi government forces battling insurgents.

Mr. al-Shalan and the Iraqi National Congress leader both are seeking National Assembly seats in Iraq's elections on January 30, and Mr. Chalabi is considered a contender for the post of prime minister.

The New York Times reports the irregular 300-million-dollar transfer is the source of widespread speculation among Iraqis and Western officials in Baghdad. The newspaper quotes Iraq's national security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie as saying official corruption in Iraq "is worse now than in the Saddam Hussein era."

Minister al-Shalan denounced Mr. Chalabi Friday in an interview with al-Jazeera, the Arab television that his own government has banned from operating in Iraq since August.

He did not detail his complaints, but said he would have the INC leader arrested after the Eid al-Adha Muslim holiday, which ends Sunday, and deported to Jordan. Mr. Chalabi was convicted in absentia by a Jordanian court in 1992 of embezzling funds from a bank he founded there.

Mr. Chalabi has not responded to the defense minister's charges. He is said to be in southern Iraq involved in his political campaign.

Information for this report is provide by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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