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Iyad Allawi: A premier for all reasons
By Ehsan Ahrari

The selection of Iyad Allawi to become prime minister of the interim government of Iraq from July 1 is a surprising development, and, like everything involving Iraq, it is fully immersed in a variety of controversies. The question that has been uppermost since last Friday, when the news of his selection was leaked, however, is whether he is really an "American candidate" or a candidate of the United Nations. The answer to that question, and, more important, Allawi's performance as the prime minister of the interim government will determine whether he will be perceived by the Iraqis as their representative.

If UN representative Lakhdar Brahimi wanted to select a "dispassionate expert" to head the interim government, Allawi does not at all fit the bill. He, like Ahmad Chalabi - the head of the Iraqi National Congress (INC) and co-aspirant for prime ministership - has a controversial and, indeed, a shady past. Chalabi was once the golden boy of America's neo-conservatives and the Pentagon. According to the original plans of the neo-conservatives, he was to be crowned as a successor to Saddam Hussein, and a torchbearer of the neo-cons' grand strategy of transforming the Middle East.

Allawi, the founder of Iraqi National Accord (INA), is a former Ba'athist and an ex-military man. He built his career as an anti-Saddam expatriate by consistently cooperating with, and supplying intelligence to, the British MI6 and the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Consequently, his nomination as prime minister is perceived, at least in Washington, as a success for the Department of State and the CIA, both of which despised Chalabi, promoted Allawi's candidacy, and could not have been happier to see Chalabi's fall from grace.

According to reports filtering out of Iraq, the selection of Allawi may have been as a result of maneuverings between the members of Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) - all hand-picked by the Americans - along with back-channel participation of L Paul Bremer, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), and Robert Blackwill, President George W Bush's special envoy to Iraq. As these reports indicate, Brahimi was serious about picking someone with no IGC or US connections so that the Iraqis should have little doubt about the integrity of such a prime minister. Allawi was on Brahimi's short list of candidates for premiership, but definitely was not his first choice.

However, Brahimi was reportedly surprised by the IGC's choice of Allawi and the speed with which Bremer and Blackwill endorsed that selection. Realizing that he was clearly outmaneuvered, Brahimi found it expedient to accept Allawi's selection as fait accompli. As Fred Eckered, spokesman for UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, noted: "This is not the way we expected this to happen, no, but the Iraqis [ie, members of IGC] seem to agree on this name, and if they do, Mr Brahimi is ready to work with him."

There is little doubt that the precedence thus established would lead to the selection of president, two vice presidents and other cabinet members from the ranks of the IGC members. Consequently, fears the UN side, the interim Iraqi government is likely to encounter a major problem of lack of credibility among the Iraqis. As a nameless Western diplomat was quoted as saying, the appointment of Allawi to the premiership of the interim Iraqi government "hardly communicates the message of a clean break with the past".

Iyad Allawi is regarded as a secularist, a Ba'athist and a pan-Arabist. As such, he should be acceptable to the Sunni groups of Iraq that also subscribe to Ba'athism and pan-Arabism. However, these very characteristics of his candidacy are likely to become great liabilities for him between next month and next January, when the first election is scheduled. For now, it is difficult to state with confidence that secularism will emerge as an important force, or secularists would emerge as an important force in Iraq. On the contrary, all present trends point to some sort of Islamic democracy emerging after next year's general elections, especially if the Shi'ite clerics of the predilection of the Grand Ayatollah al-Ali al-Sistani have any say over influencing the thinking of their followers.

Allawi was involved in an aborted coup against Saddam in 1996. His organization, INA, is also infamously known for passing on intelligence to MI6 that claimed that Saddam could launch a weapons-of-mass-destruction attack within 45 minutes. In the post-Saddam era, and as a current member of the IGC, he has also built his reputation as someone who is copiously focused on security-related issues.

He ran the IGC's security committee, which is responsible for training the new Iraqi police, army and intelligence services. However, an overall impression within informed circles in Iraq is that his excessive focus on security will push him in the direction of building strong security at the expense of even stymieing efforts to build democracy.

This characteristic is likely to cause considerable controversy, given the strong security-related obsession during the dictatorship of Saddam. Critics of Allawi's strong preoccupation with security may have a point when they become wary about the implications of such a preoccupation for the growth of democracy. On the other hand, supporters of Allawi also have a point when they argue that without increased security inside Iraq, no one can even begin to talk about the realistic prospects for democracy. As much as Brahimi and Bremer are cognizant of this dilemma, there is nothing they can do to resolve it.

So we must return to the question posed earlier, whether Allawi will be perceived as an American candidate, or as a person who was picked by the UN for his integrity and his commitment to bring Iraq a clean government that should be ready for a democratically elected corps of leadership after next January. Based on his past affiliations with the US and British intelligence agencies, the answer may be that he will be regarded as anything but a man of integrity to achieve all those things. However, Allawi still has ample opportunities to surprise his Western interlocutors and doubters of his native land, by working assiduously to establish a clean and independent government for a slate of elected officials. But he must establish a record of credible performance rather quickly. Otherwise, his countrymen will regard him, like Ahmad Chalabi, as just another puppet who was hand-picked to do the bidding of the United States. Such a conclusion will not bode well for the post-occupation Iraq.

Ehsan Ahrari, PhD, is an Alexandria, Virginia, US-based independent strategic analyst.

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Jun 2, 2004

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