Global Policy Forum

Allawi, Who Battled Hussein,


By Farah Nayeri

June 1, 2004

Iyad Allawi, a former official of Iraq's Baath party who once organized a failed attempt to topple dictator Saddam Hussein, is now the best U.S. hope for the transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis, said Amatzia Baram, a Middle Eastern history professor at Haifa University in Israel.

Allawi, a medical doctor by training, will serve as prime minister for six months starting July 1 and prepare the country for January elections. His government will replace the Coalition Provisional Authority, which under Ambassador Paul Bremer has run Iraq since the U.S.-led overthrow of Hussein last year. Allawi, 59, is a secular Shiite and Arab nationalist who battled during three decades in exile to rid Iraq of Hussein -- from outside the country. He was unanimously designated prime minister Friday by the Iraqi Governing Council, the 25-member body that's been running the country alongside the U.S. and reflects Iraq's Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish communities.

``He does not rub anybody the wrong way,'' said Baram, 66, author or editor of four books on Iraq under Hussein and currently a scholar at the U.S. Institute of Peace, a Congress- backed group that promotes conflict resolution. ``He is a Shiite; at the same time he is secular. He is close to the old Baathist elite, so Sunnis see him as acceptable. The Kurds are not allergic to him either.'' Allawi's appointment comes a month before the June 30 handover of sovereignty from the U.S. to an Iraqi team put together by the UN's top representative in Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, who approved Allawi's nomination. Another Iraqi Shiite, nuclear physicist Hussain Shahristani, 62, said on May 27 he wasn't interested in serving as prime minister.

Opposed US Crackdown

U.S. forces have been battling insurgents in Sunni-dominated Fallujah, west of Baghdad, and followers of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in the south, leaving hundreds dead and raising concern that the American-led occupation may be unraveling. Allawi made news in April when he stepped down as head of the governing council's security committee while U.S. troops fought insurgents in Fallujah. According to the INA's Baghdad daily, Allawi wrote a resignation letter voicing ``reservations on the measures adopted by the top civil administrator and his armed troops,'' Agence France-Presse reported, a reference to Bremer.

While U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell called the council's designation of Allawi as prime minister a tribute to the Iraqi's support, he said it was Brahimi's opinion that mattered. Bremer ``congratulated the governing council on a very distinguished choice,'' Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman Dan Senor told reporters in Baghdad. `Knew His Way Around'

Allawi, who is a member of the governing council, founded the Iraqi National Accord, or Wifaq, party in 1990. It was later based in Jordan and was composed of high-ranking dissident Iraqi officers and officials. ``He was the politician and the man who knew his way around, the one organizing the networks inside Iraq and managing all the in-and-out underground work,'' said Salah al-Shaikhly, who co- founded the INA with Allawi and previously served as head of Iraq's central bank and of the government's economic planning commission. In 1996, the INA received $6 million in covert aid from the U.S., which was seeking an alternative to the opposition Iraqi National Congress led by Shiite ex-banker Ahmad Chalabi, according to ``Tyranny's Ally,'' a 1999 account of the U.S.-Iraqi relationship written by David Wurmser. Allawi said in an Amman, Jordan, press conference in February 1996 that his aim was to stir a military uprising from inside Iraq, according to Wurmser's book.

Failed Coup

The coup plot, put together in Amman with a CIA team, according to the books, failed. By late June of that year, Iraqi intelligence officers -- using captured CIA communications equipment -- let the CIA know that all those involved had been arrested, according to Wurmser's book and to Andrew and Patrick Cockburn's 2002 account ``Saddam Hussein: An American Obsession.'' While Allawi was in Jordan, the coup plotters inside Iraq were executed, according to the books.

The following year, the INA received almost $5 million in U.S. funds, according to the Cockburns' book. Others who worked with Allawi in the opposition said he's primarily a politician. Brahimi said in late April he wanted a government of apolitical technocrats who would administer the country until the elections scheduled for January 2005 and not run for office. ``I think 80 percent of his thinking is politics,'' said Laith Kubba, 49, a U.S.-based former engineer who worked for years with Allawi in opposition and now works with the National Endowment for Democracy, a Washington-based non-profit organization. ``The thrust of his politics will be to rebuild the state.''

Free Market

While his career in opposition offers few clues to his economic leanings, the INA Web site says the party's aim is to use the proceeds of Iraqi oil ``for the advantage of Iraqi citizens'' and allow private industry ``to participate in all economic activities'' in a free market. Kubba said Allawi's appointment may reassure the mid-ranking Baath party members who felt threatened after Hussein's downfall and the U.S.-led coalition's initial policy of ``de- Baathification.'' ``A lot of people who were members of the Baath party and of the army feel they will not be penalized under him,'' he said.

Allawi's ex-Baathist credentials may be considered a liability by some Iraqis. ``I don't think he's going to be well received at all within Iraq,'' said Gareth Stansfield, an associate fellow at the London-based Royal Institute of International Affairs and co-author of an upcoming book, ``The Future of Iraq.'' ``He comes with a lot of baggage, and he doesn't have a particularly strong network on the ground.''

Attacked in Bed

Allawi was head of the London-based Iraqi Student Union in Europe in the early 1970s. In 1978, Iraqi agents burst into his home in Kingston-upon-Thames, and as he slept next to his wife, attacked him with knives and axes, before being intercepted by his father-in-law, according to the Cockburns' book. Allawi sustained serious injuries.

As a Baghdad University medical student in 1967, Allawi was the Baathist, or Arab nationalist, candidate in the student elections that year, recalled Mowaffak al-Rubaie, now Iraq's national security adviser, in a May 2003 telephone interview. Allawi defeated al-Rubaie, who was the Islamic candidate in the same elections. When al-Rubaie later asked Allawi if he could put up Koranic or religious posters during the Muslim holidays, he refused to allow it, al-Rubaie recalled, emphasizing Allawi's secular, nationalist leanings. ``He has organizational skills, huge ones, and he's an intelligent guy,'' al-Rubaie added. ``In his presentation, he's very good and he's very focused.''

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