Chalabi: The Survivor

<b>Lesley Stahl</b> Interviews Iraq's Ahmed Chalabi

To his supporters, Ahmed Chalabi is the George Washington of Iraq, a brilliant leader who is more responsible than anyone for persuading President Bush to invade Iraq.

To his detractors, he is a snake-oil salesman whose bogus tales of weapons of mass destruction snookered the United States into a military quagmire.

But there is one thing his friends and enemies agree on: Chalabi may be one of the most resilient and shrewd politicians alive. He is a Houdini-like survivor.

60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl reports.

Today, Ahmed Chalabi is on top of the world. He is a deputy prime minister in Iraq. In May, he became the chairman of the Energy Committee with authority over Iraq's oil industry.

Chalabi took us with him on a trip to Kirkuk to survey a new program he's implemented to protect the northern oil pipeline. While other officials travel around Iraq by helicopter, Chalabi — something of a dare-devil — drove in a 30-car motorcade through insurgent country.

Chalabi showed us where insurgents used to attack the pipeline and how, every time it was repaired, they would just blow it up again.

"This is the debris from the blowing up and the sabotage and the bombs that were put in the pipeline. As you can see, they are twisted," Chalabi said, pointing to the wreckage below him.

In May, Chalabi persuaded the U.S. military to train a special force of mainly local tribesmen to guard the route.

"The plan is to get the pipeline protected, to get soldiers on the pipeline, to have patrol cars, to have night vision equipment, to have aerial surveillance," Chalabi said.

When asked if no anyone else had thought of this plan, Chalabi said, "It hadn't been done. You see, the protection of the infrastructure sadly was not a military priority."

Well, now it is. And Chalabi gets much of the credit. Iraq is making money again from the flow of oil to Turkey, due in large part to the soldiers on guard every mile or two along the pipeline. By all accounts, with projects like this Chalabi has been so effective that he has made himself indispensable — the man to go to to get things done.

How did Chalabi stage his comeback?

"The people who said otherwise were wrong," Chalabi said.

Chalabi's fall from grace started when the weapons of mass destruction he said were in Iraq were never found. Then there were charges of theft and counterfeiting and finally — and most egregiously — accusations he was spying for Iran.

"This was a manufactured charge, untrue, false, unfounded. This information was directed for political purposes against us," Chalabi said. He also believes it was a political vendetta because he was becoming "troublesome."

"They thought they could write my obituary, but they are wrong," Chalabi said.