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Economics

Allawi’s Dilemma

27 June 2004

Allawi’s Dilemma

By Gwynne Dyer

The last thing Iyad Allawi needs right now is a photo-op of President George W. Bush congratulating him on becoming prime minister of the ‘sovereign’ (but US-appointed) government of Iraq. What he must do in order to survive, not only politically but personally, is to put as much space as possible between the himself and the United States, so if security concerns force Mr Bush’s handlers to cancel his long-scheduled secret trip to Baghdad on 30 June to do the ‘hand-over of power’ in person, it will be all right with Allawi.

Every Iraqi knows what happened to Nuri Said, fourteen times prime minister and London’s main instrument for controlling the British-appointed kings who ruled Iraq until 1958. When Iraqi nationalists rebelled and overthrew the puppet monarchy, they machine-gunned the young king, who was just playing the role he had been born into. But when a mob caught Nuri Said two days later, trying to escape Baghdad dressed as a woman, they tore him apart with their bare hands and left his remains in the road to be flattened by the traffic like road-kill. Iraqis do not like collaborators.

The risk of ending up the same way must haunt Iyad Allawi, for his position is quite similar. According to the latest opinion poll conducted by the Coalition Provisional Authority itself, 92 percent of Arab Iraqis now see Americans as occupiers, and only 2 percent as liberators. Allawi owes his position entirely to the United States, depends on US-controlled money for the day-to-day operations of his government, and must rely on American troops to protect him and fight the resistance. He is actually more compromised than Nuri Said was, and he knows it.

The security situation in Iraq is even worse than it was during the uprisings in April, because the rebels in Falluja and the rebel Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr both effectively won their confrontations with American forces. Falluja is now a no-go area for US forces (though they bomb it occasionally), and it serves as safe haven and interim capital for the Sunni insurgents who have done most of the fighting against the occupation so far.

The young extremist Moqtada al-Sadr was neither killed nor arrested by US forces, as the CPA spokesman kept promising. Instead, his influence among the majority Shias has grown at the expense of his more moderate elders, and Najaf and Kerbala have also effectively become no-go areas for US forces. Half of the newly recruited Iraqi police and army troops refused to fight fellow Iraqis on behalf of foreigners during the April revolts, and 10 percent actually switched sides and fought for the rebels.

The spectacular coordinated attacks of 25 June, when insurgents stormed police stations and government buildings in five cities, killing 85 and injuring 320, show how powerful the Iraqi resistance has now become. To talk of the insurgents as “terrorists” is just name-calling; terrorists do not stand and fight. Nor are they necessarily the “enemies of democracy and of the Iraqi people,” as US propaganda insists; they include many Iraqis who believe, rightly or wrongly, that neither genuine democracy nor real freedom is part of the Bush administration’s plans for Iraq.

These are the people that Allawi must convince or marginalise if he is to succeed, or indeed even to survive. That is why, last weekend, he started to emphasise the difference between “foreign terrorists” — the Islamist holy warriors who he and most Iraqis believe are responsible for the indiscriminate suicide bombings that regularly devastate Iraqi cities — and the honest Iraqi patriots who are simply fighting to drive the Americans out. He didn’t put it in exactly those words, of course, since it is the United States that pays his bills, but it was clearly the logic behind his offer of amnesty to insurgents who fit the latter category.

An amnesty is obviously the right strategy, but that doesn’t mean it will work. Many, probably most Iraqis do not see the ‘hand-over’ to Allawi’s government as a new beginning. For the multitude of cynics, it’s just the exiles who came back to Iraq on the coat-tails of the US army re-arranging their deck-chairs once again. Moreover, the insurgents have the bit between their teeth, and people are less inclined to compromise when they think they’re going to win.

Allawi himself is a particular problem: he has been a prime CIA ‘asset’ for many years, and admits to having taken money from a total of 15 foreign intelligence agencies. All in the cause of overthrowing Saddam Hussein, he insists, and it’s probably true — but it’s not the CV you would choose if your task was to persuade sceptical Iraqi nationalists that your real master is the Iraqi people, not the United States.

Allawi is trying to show that he’s not a puppet of the American occupation forces, but it’s hard to do when the truth is that he’d be dead in a day without American protection. His press conferences are held in the heart of the Green Zone, the headquarters of the US civil administration in Iraq, and you have to pass through four checkpoints manned by American soldiers to get to them. There is not a single Iraqi soldier in sight.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 8 and 9. (“An amnesty…States”)

NOTE: IT’S NOT CLEAR YET WHETHER BUSH WILL GO TO BAGHDAD OR NOT. IF USING THIS ARTICLE AFTER 30 JUNE, MODIFY THE FIRST PARA AS FOLLOWS:

IF HE WENT:

The last thing Iyad Allawi needed right now was a photo-op of President George W. Bush congratulating him on becoming prime minister of the ‘sovereign’ (but US-appointed) government of Iraq. What he must do in order to survive, not only politically but personally, is to put as much space as possible between the himself and the United States, so if security concerns had forced Mr Bush’s handlers to cancel his long-scheduled secret trip to Baghdad on 30 June to do the ‘hand-over of power’ in person, it would have been all right with Allawi.

IF HE DIDN’T GO:

The last thing Iyad Allawi needed right now was a photo-op of President George W. Bush congratulating him on becoming prime minister of the ‘sovereign’ (but US-appointed) government of Iraq. What he must do in order to survive, not only politically but personally, is to put as much space as possible between the himself and the United States, so it’s just as well that security concerns force Mr Bush’s handlers to cancel his long-scheduled secret trip to Baghdad on 30 June to do the ‘hand-over of power’ in person. Allawi doesn’t mind at all.