Slow Burn: The Road to the Iraq War

Season 5: Episode 1

The Exile

Ahmad Chalabi spent decades trying to return to Baghdad. Thanks to the Americans’ war, he finally got his wish.


Episode Notes

Eighteen years have passed since the United States invaded Iraq. It’s a war that killed hundreds of thousands of people and destroyed America’s credibility on the world stage. How much can that war be traced to one Iraqi exile’s longstanding quest to return to Baghdad?

Season 5 of Slow Burn is produced by Noreen Malone, Jayson De Leon, and Sophie Summergrad, with mixing by Merritt Jacob and production help by Margaret Kelley.

Sources for This Episode


Baer, Robert. See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA’s War Against Terrorism, Crown, 2002.

Bonin, Richard. Arrows of the Night: Ahmad Chalabi’s Long Journey to Triumph in Iraq, Doubleday, 2011.

Draper, Robert. To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took America Into Iraq, Penguin Press, 2020.

Isikoff, Michael and David Corn, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, Crown, 2006.


Chalabi, Ahmad. “Democracy for Iraq …,” Washington Post, March 12, 1991.

Chan, Sewell. “Ahmad Chalabi, Iraqi Politician Who Pushed for U.S. Invasion, Dies at 71,” New York Times, Nov. 3, 2015.

Di Giovanni, Janine. “The Enemy of Our Enemy,” New York Times, Feb. 20, 2000.

Filkins, Dexter. “Postscript: Ahmad Chalabi,” the New Yorker, Nov. 3, 2015.

Filkins, Dexter. “Where Plan A Left Ahmad Chalabi,” New York Times, Nov. 5, 2006.

Hanania, Richard. “Ahmad Chalabi and the Great Man Theory of History,” War on the Rocks, Dec. 17, 2018.

Hersh, Seymour. “The Iraq Hawks,” the New Yorker, Dec. 16, 2001.

Hoagland, Jim. “How CIA’s Secret War on Saddam Collapsed,” Washington Post, June 26, 1997.

Jehl, Douglas. “Iraqi Exiles Want Strike Aimed at Hussein,” New York Times, Feb. 22, 1998.

Kandell, Jonathan. “Iraq’s Unruly Century,” Smithsonian Magazine, May 2003.

Mayer, Jane. “The Manipulator,” the New Yorker, May 30, 2004.

Morris, Loveday and Brian Murphy. “Ahmed Chalabi, Iraqi Exile Who Helped Spur U.S. Invasion, Dies of Heart Attack,” Washington Post, Nov. 3, 2015.

Risen, James. “FBI Probed Alleged CIA Plot to Kill Hussein,” Los Angeles Times, Feb. 15, 1998.

Sciolino, Elaine. “A Failed Plot to Overthrow Hussein Is Reported in Iraq,” New York Times, March 8, 1995.

Shenon, Philip. “House Votes $100 Million to Aid Foes of Baghdad,” New York Times, Oct. 7, 1998.

Thomas, Evan, Christopher Dickey, and Gregory L. Vistica. Bay of Pigs Redux,” Newsweek, March 23, 1998.

Zengerle, Jason. “At Home Abroad,” the New Republic, Dec. 23, 2002.

Slate Plus Member Content Bonus Episode

Who Was Ahmad Chalabi?

More on the divisive figure from the people who got to know him.


About the Show

In 2003, the United States invaded Iraq without provocation. Most Americans supported the war—as did most politicians and intellectuals, both liberal and conservative. Today, it’s universally considered a disaster.

Hosted by award-winning reporter Noreen Malone, the fifth season of Slow Burn explores the people and ideas that propelled the country into the Iraq war, and the institutions that failed to stop it. How did the Iraq catastrophe happen? And what was it like to watch America make one of its most consequential mistakes?

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  • Noreen Malone is the host of Slow Burn Season 5. Formerly, she was the editorial director of New York magazine and a host of Slate’s The Waves. Her magazine reporting has earned a George Polk Award.