Iraq's Chalabi Advises Protesters Abroad The revolutionary fervor sweeping the Arab world is opening a new door for a familiar but controversial figure in Iraq. Ahmed Chalabi, the man who helped persuade the United States to topple Saddam Hussein, is now taking up the cause of freedom fighters around the Arab world.
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Iraq's Chalabi Advises Protesters Abroad

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Iraq's Chalabi Advises Protesters Abroad

Iraq's Chalabi Advises Protesters Abroad

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

Chalabi says Iraq should lead the way to democratic change in the region, but Kelly McEvers reports that he might have other motives as well.

KELLY MCEVERS: Chalabi and his colleagues in the Iraqi National Congress are working on all kinds of things these days. His pet cause is Bahrain, a country where mass protests that started in February have been met with a brutal crackdown. Chalabi's group is organizing conferences, featuring Bahraini opposition figures from London like this man, Qasim al Hashmi.

QASIM AL HASHMI: (Speaking in foreign language)

MCEVERS: Speaking to a handful of Iraqi journalists, Hashmi breaks down over the plight of Bahraini protesters.

AL HASHMI: (Speaking in foreign language)

MCEVERS: We went into the streets carrying flowers, he says, and they met us with tanks and rifles. After Hashmi's speech, we ask him why he's raising these concerns in Iraq.

AL HASHMI: This is the first time we found a brother, a big brother who is taking - who is leading us, who is putting their hand into our hand and saying, come, I'll take your case to the world together.

MCEVERS: Unidentified Group: (Speaking in foreign language)

MCEVERS: In his modernist sitting room, Chalabi receives petitioners like a powerful sheik. He says Iraq should serve as an example to the region.

AHMED CHALABI: Iraq has overthrown one of the most terrible dictatorships and blood-thirsty dictators in the 20th century. Now, Iraq can claim rightfully that it has a democratic government and it has elected parliament and free elections, and there is a dialogue, a political dialogue, going on.

MCEVERS: And this, they say, is why Chalabi cares so deeply about Bahrain. The majority of people there are Shiite, but the ruling family is Sunni. Chalabi denies he's stoking sectarian flames by extending a Shiite hand to Bahrain.

CHALABI: It's like accusing Martin Luther King of being a racist. Is he a racist? He stood up for the rights of the blacks because they were oppressed as blacks. These people are oppressed as Shia.

MCEVERS: Joost Hiltermann, an Iraq analyst with the International Crisis Group, says casting local uprisings as a regional battle between Shiites and Sunnis is a dangerous game.

JOOST HILTERMANN: If you're a Bahraini Shiite, and you feel discriminated against, and then outsiders come in and say, oh, we support you...

MCEVERS: It only plays into the Bahraini ruling family's narrative, Hiltermann says, that the protests are being orchestrated by outsiders.

HILTERMANN: If they can cast the revolt as essentially Iranian-inspired, that would give it the ammunition it needs to suppress this revolt efficiently.

MCEVERS: Unidentified Group: (Speaking in foreign language)

MCEVERS: Unidentified Group: (Speaking in foreign language)

MCEVERS: Unidentified Group: (Speaking in foreign language)

MCEVERS: Kelly McEvers, NPR News, Baghdad.

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