January 17, 2005

Allawi Profile

Much more interesting than Seymour Hersh's big "scoop" in this week's New Yorker, I think, is Jon Lee Anderson's long profile of Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. It starts off sympathetically, and rightly so. Say what you want about the man—maybe he's a bit of a puppet, maybe his crackdowns on renegade Shi'ite groups are ill-advised, maybe he's too brutal at times—but Allawi sure is trying to hold Iraq together:
Allawi told me that he had met with former members of Saddam’s Baath Party. (Allawi began his own career as a Baathist in the nineteen-fifties, when he was young, long before Saddam’s rise to power, at a time when Baathism represented anti-colonialism and pan-Arabism.) "I ask these former Baathists, what is it you want to achieve—to bring Saddam back, to get the multinational forces out of Iraq? If it’s to bring Saddam back to power, forget it—khalas—he’s finished. He ended like a rat, hiding in a hole in the ground. This is not respectable. Or if you want to bring bin Laden or someone like him to Iraq, we'll fight you room to room. We won’t accept this, ever. If you want to get the multinational forces out, then join the elections. Use your vote to get them out."

I pointed out that such arguments had not attracted much support. "No," Allawi said. "The trend is not good."
No, it's not, and drawing the Sunnis in is going to be difficult—perhaps impossible so long as they believe that the insurgency can win militarily. On the other hand, Iraq's Finance Minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, thinks that Allawi actually isn't the best person to unite Iraq's various factions:
Mahdi said that Allawi’s main weakness was his inability to broker alliances. For the elections, he said, Allawi should have forged "a national ticket" that would have united their two coalitions [i.e. the secular Shiite list and the Sistani-"backed" religious Shiite list]. Allawi, Mahdi suggested, was a man more accustomed to conspiracy than to political horse-trading. Instead of building coalitions, Mahdi said with disapproval, Allawi had focused on helping former Baathists.
I've written here and there about Allawi's old Baathist ties before, and it's still an open question as to whether there's really a power struggle going on between the ex-Baathist elements of the interim government (Allawi, Defense Minister Hazem Shalan, intelligence chief Muhammad Shahwani) and some of the more radical Shi'ite movements floating around (Badr Corps, Hizbullah Movement Iraq, etc.) This struggle is poorly understood and not very well reported, though signs have cropped up here and there. All in all, though, it's not a good sign that Mahdi—an ex-Baathist and now a member of SCIRI, the Shi'ite fundamentalist party—thinks Allawi has beef with some of the more radical Shiite groups. Allawi, for his part, seems to acquit himself well here, but who knows.

Anyways, that's all sort of trivia. Now this bit of Anderson's story is pretty important:
A prominent Iraqi politician, who is running for the National Assembly as a member of the religious Shiite coalition, told me that the Americans had quietly let the leading candidates know that there were three conditions that they expected the next Iraqi government to meet. "One, it should not be under the influence of Iran," he said. "Two, it should not ask for the withdrawal of American troops. And, three, it should not install an Islamic state."
What? I don't see how the U.S. could possibly set those conditions—though they might try a few maneuvers to keep Allawi at the helm of the elected National Assembly. And who's to say that's such a bad thing? At least from Anderson's reporting, Allawi seems to know more than a little bit about chatting up those Sunni sheikhs and religious leaders who are actually willing to negotiate, so maybe he wouldn't be a terrible choice after all.
-- Brad Plumer 7:51 PM || ||