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Allawi barking up the wrong tree
By Ehsan Ahrari

Iyad Allawi, the US-hand-picked prime minister of the Iraqi Interim Government (IIG) and a wanna-be prime minister of the elected government, is on his way to Washington to accomplish several objectives. First and foremost is to get his master, President George W Bush, re-elected. Second, to get an endorsement of his performance thus far from the international community by appearing at the United Nations. Third, to take that endorsement back to Iraq and hope that it will win him election as a regular and a long-term prime minister of Iraq next January. In the achievement of all of these objectives, he faces an uphill battle. Even his success in the first two of those objectives is not likely to get him elected.

There are two international Pollyannas regarding Iraq: Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The first one wants to be re-elected, the second wants to hang on for the rest of his term, and hopes to leave behind a respectable legacy. Allawi, meanwhile, whose popularity in Iraq is highly tainted, is in dire need of approval from the UN if he is to have a future in Iraq, since he has failed to receive that from within Iraq. And Allawi should know that America's past puppets have had an equally tough time establishing credibility inside their own countries.

A decision seems to have been made in Washington not only to harp on the "good news" in Iraq, but also to bring Allawi to Washington to speak in front of a highly skeptical US Congress. During the first leg of that scripted trip in London, Blair and Allawi started a chorus of emphasizing the "good news" during a joint appearance. Blair said, with Allawi standing next to him, that the second Iraq war, between the coalition forces and insurgents, is now under way in what has become the "crucible" of the global "war on terrorism". Wait a minute; Bush told us before invading Iraq that it was the center of global terrorism then. Which of these statements is correct? The credibility gap is fast becoming a chasm.

Allawi also chimed in. He told highly incredulous British journalists, "Let me assure you, we are succeeding in Iraq; we are succeeding against the forces of evil. I am really dismayed by the media, that they are not looking at the bright side and what has been achieved." That is exactly the oft-repeated rhetoric of Bush's stump speeches these days. If one were to guess, all Allawi's speeches and public statements have been drafted in the White House, which also seems to be scripting what Blair must emphasize during his public appearances.

At the same time, three highly respected US senators of the Republican party are making very somber statements that really reflect the ground realities regarding Iraq. Senator John McCain, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said the situation in Iraq "has been deteriorating, to say the least". He went on to predict that it would worsen between now and Iraq's elections planned for January. Senator Richard G Lugar, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, criticizing the fact that only US$1 billion of the $18 billion appropriated by Congress for Iraq's reconstruction had been spent, called it an outcome of "the incompetence of the administration". Senator Chuck Hagel, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said, "We are in deep trouble in Iraq."

Allawi has been reiterating that elections in Iraq will not be postponed, regardless of the deteriorating security situation in the Sunni-dominated areas of his country. He seems to be unfazed by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's recent warning that there could not be "credible elections if the security conditions continue as they are now".

Of the preceding, the most ominous development is that Allawi is looking for legitimacy for the IIG not at home, but in the international arena. One thing should be clearly understood about actions of this nature. The role of the international community is very important in providing legitimacy to the IIG; and it did that when that entity was first created in June. That was the end of the role of the international community. From then on, the IIG needed to establish its legitimacy inside Iraq. Such legitimacy must be evolved through highly visible capabilities of the IIG to build or rebuild governmental educational, health, law-enforcement and economic infrastructures. Those infrastructures, in turn, must start producing results in the form of services for the highly critical eyes of the populace. In this regard, the US government has indeed played an active role in Iraq.

However, it seems the Iraqi insurgency has read all the Western books on the stages of economic development, and those describing the blueprints of the evolution of legitimacy in the Third World at large. Those forces are systematically, and in a highly focused fashion, blowing up most, if not all, visible symbols of economic development. Then, through an added deadly wrinkle to their strategy - by kidnapping foreign workers, who are there to rebuild Iraq, and blowing up all willing Iraqis who wish to join the security forces of their country - the insurgents are ensuring that Iraq stays as a miserable living place, a condition that is bound to increase the unpopularity of the IIG. This is also where the rub is.

The only way to secure institutions of economic development (and that, to be sure, includes the safety of oil pipelines) is to have a proactive policy of countering terrorism. However, the Iraqi population has no idea whether the IIG is the determining authority about where to use the US forces and what should be the scope of the use of that force, or the US occupying forces are running around using overwhelming force at will, and then informing the diffident IIG, and only as an afterthought. Equally important, there is no evidence that the IIG is not serving as a willing client entity of the US occupation forces in their ever-escalating role in counterterrorism. As a political hack who came to power largely through his US Central Intelligence Agency connections, Allawi has paid no attention to ensuring that the IIG's authority and independence regarding counterterrorism be clearly articulated each time a bombing raid is made in civilian areas.

In addition, there is a serious problem in the use of air power in civilian areas. More often than not there are innocent civilian casualties, which the US occupation forces cavalierly dismiss as "collateral damage". Unfortunately, those collateral damages sow incalculable seeds of hatred from which future saboteurs sprout, and then are carefully nurtured by the Iraqi insurgents for future attacks, not only on all symbols of the IIG, but also of the US occupation.

So Allawi's trip to Washington and New York has no bearing whatsoever on the scale or the pace of violence in Iraq. It might provide a few moments of additional media attention, which may or may not help Bush's popularity numbers in the US. The American populace seems to have been lulled into hearing the rhetoric of fear. Nothing else seems to matter in the forthcoming US presidential election. Only Bush seems to think that Allawi has much clout inside the US political arena. The Iraqis, as in about everything else that matters about their country, don't share Bush's high regard for the IIG's premier.

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

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Sep 22, 2004

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