Washington D.C. – Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Chalabi has been playing hard ball with Bush administration officials during his eight day trip to Washington D.C.

According to senior associates of the Iraqi official, who have accompanied him to meetings with Bush administration officials, Mr. Chalabi has been threatening his friends in the Bush administration that if they do not support his candidacy to become the next prime minister of Iraq that there will be no way to contain Iran. He has told them in no uncertain terms that he is the only one who can make the Iranians behave.

Such threats, whether accurate or not, ring sweetly in the ears of an administration desperately in search of solutions for a troubled region. Under harsh pressure from Israel’s Prime Minister Sharon to do something about Iran, the White House has approved a series of “highly intrusive and provocative’ intelligence operations against the government of Iran”, according to a highly placed official who formerly worked as an analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency. These intelligence monitoring operations consist of everything from aerial surveillance missions that straddle Iranian airspace that are launched from Iraq and Kazakhstan, to even more controversial operations that shall remain nameless for the time being.

Last Monday, the Iranian government announced that it had found the wreckage of two U.S. unmanned spy planes. Iranian officials described the crash of a Shadow 200 RQ-7 drone in Ilam Province and of a Hermes drone in the Khoram Abad area of Iran. The Pentagon issued no comment to the Iranian claims.

Mr. Chalabi, a convicted embezzler in Jordan, is a known friend of Iran. He visited that country before arriving in Washington D.C. earlier this week.  In his last ditch quest for power, Chalabi reiterated to U.S. officials that Iran’s unpredictable President Ahmadinejad may decide to play the oil card as a weapon against the United States. Specifically, he told them that President Ahmadinejad might team up with President Chavez of Venezuela, thereby withholding substantial amounts of oil from the international marketplace, as a means of driving up the price of a barrel of oil. At present, the United States relies on 7.4% of its petroleum products from Venezuela. Meanwhile, Iran provides 5% of all oil production globally. “If Iran and Venezuela decided to team up and squeeze the United States, Uncle Sam might have to scream uncle,” explained one of Chalabi’s friends.

Chalabi also took advantage of uneasiness within the Bush White House over Iran’s desire to manufacture a nuclear weapon. Though he acknowledged U.S. and European efforts to move Iran’s nuclear activities to Russia, he said he was the only one to convince Iran not to use uranium enrichment conversion for unsafe purposes.

The Bush administration knows Chalabi is a friend of Iran, perhaps too close of a friend, given that he is currently under investigation for passing vital U.S. intelligence secrets to Tehran. Nevertheless, much of what Mr. Chalabi has told his old friends in the Bush administration has pleased them. For example, he has talked openly here about the nature of the future government of Iraq, as to whether it should be Islamist or secular. This is a topic Washington and Iran are worlds apart on.

Furthermore, Chalabi also told Washington of the growing unhappiness in Tehran, among certain classes, with President Ahmadinejad. He reported that billions of dollars in capital has been removed from Iran and placed in banks in Dubai by fearful Iranians. In addition, he told U.S. officials about Iranian concerns over a poorly constructed Russian nuclear research reactor in Bushehr, Iran that Iranians fear may trigger another Chernobyl-like disaster. Lastly, he relayed the degree to which Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was growing increasingly unhappy with President Ahmadinejad.

In spite of Chalabi’s record as a double-dealer and a record of being an unreliable source, the Bush administration is becoming increasingly interested in backing a coalition government in Iraq that places Chalabi and former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, as the rightful leaders of that country. The name of the game for Washington is to find some Iraqi leaders who will push democratic secularism into the faces of the Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis. The Bush White House is beginning to believe that Chalabi and Allawi are the only gentlemen who can form a secular democratic government.

With national elections for a new four-year National Assembly and government practically a month away, Chalabi has been adopting brazen tactics in promoting himself as an alternative to the Islamist-led government in Iraq, repeatedly reminding Washington of his ability to curb Iran’s influence in Iraq. In this context, Chalabi, an MIT-educated, secular Shiite Muslim, has gone after his foremost opponent, Adel Abdul Mahdi, Iraq’s vice-president and former finance minister, who has also been meeting with Bush administration officials in Washington D.C. this week. Chalabi never fails to mention that Mahdi was a member of the communist party in his youth. Though Chalabi and Mahdi went to high school together, they are no longer close friends.

The mastermind behind Chalabi’s reincarnation and current eight day return visit to Washington D.C., his first in two years, is none other than the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalizad. He is the one who has arranged all of Chalabi’s meetings with Bush administration officials and primed his visit, which included numerous social events, like a private party held at Richard Pearle’s home Wednesday evening that featured a gushy toast from Arab scholar, Bernard Lewis, saluting Chalabi. Khalizad, an Afghan-born, neo-con, who has lived most of his life in the United States, has practically become  Chalabi’s campaign manager within the Bush White House.

Aides to Iraq’s current vice-president Adel Adbul Mahdi cannot believe that the Bush administration would overlook the will of the Iraqi people and stuff a fellow like Chalabi down the throats of Iraq’s voters. They are so worried about Chalabi that they say privately they have no doubt that he might order Mahdi’s assassination if he could get away with it, even though Mahdi is well-protected twenty-four hours a day by U.S. Special Forces.

Though Chalabi’s ratings may be rising within the Bush White House, he is not viewed highly by the U.S Congress. Representative Christopher Shays, for example, the Republican Chairman of the House subcommittee on national security said yesterday that he would not be surprised if Ahmad Chalabi, had given information to Iran in the past that the United States would have preferred to be withheld. Moreover, U.S. officials are concerned by the blatant ways in which Chalabi has been shopping around oil deals with U.S. oil companies to explore proven reserves in Iraq.

Noting the ever-changing political winds in Washington D.C., a desperate and tired Adel Abdul Mahdi—who has had a severe case of diarrhea all week-- will campaign among the Iraqi community in Detroit, Michigan this weekend. He has also scheduled an as yet unannounced visit with England’s Prime Minister Tony Blair and a stopover in Tehran to see Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, before he returns home to Baghdad.

“Mahdi’s still thinks the United States supervises democratic elections abroad,” laughs a well-placed member of the U.S. intelligence community. “We have too much at stake to leave leadership decisions to the will of the Iraqi people.”