Saturday, May 29, 2004

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So what do we know about Iyad Allawi?

Apparently Ayad Allawi is to be the Prime Minister of Iraq from June 30th of this year to January 31st, 2005. He's consulted with U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi about the make-up of the provisional government's cabinet.

What else do we know from his selection? Josh Marshall doesn't offer much of a guide:

I continue to think that something very important happened in this selection of Iyad Allawi. Precisely what, though, remains unclear.

Juan Cole thinks that Brahimi preferred an exile who could not use the position to entrench himself in power. However, the BBC reports that Brahimi ain't exactly thrilled with the selection of Allawi.

I can offer zilch in the way of information about Allawi himself. But I do think that the nature of Allawi's selection contains two interesting nuggets of information. The first comes from Mike Allen and Robin Wright's Washington Post story about the selection. It suggests the extent to which the Bush administration did not want to be seen as puppetmaster on this one:

In a telephone conversation at 2:30 p.m., a senior U.S. official involved in Iraq policy sounded uncertain about whether Ayad Allawi would head Iraq's interim government after the United States transfers limited authority on June 30.

"We may or may not have heard the last word on the prime minister," the official said. "You have to put a lot of pieces together first."

A senior administration official in Baghdad said that L. Paul Bremer, the civilian U.S. administrator, and Robert D. Blackwill, the U.S. presidential envoy to Iraq, knew about the impending selection on Thursday. But officials in Baghdad feared a leak and told few officials in Washington. Some members of President Bush's war cabinet knew where the process was heading but were surprised by the timing of the council's decision.

The administration's statements were reserved because the United States did not want to appear to be driving the process, officials said, especially because of the country's past ties with Allawi.

The second nugget of information is that whoever Allawi is, Ahmed Chalabi doesn't like him. I know this via another Laurie Mylroie mass e-mail, which contained a link to this scathing Al Arab commentary by one Dr. Haifa Al-Azawi. The last paragraph is all you need to read:

These kinds of people can put our U.S. government and our troops in bad positions and in danger. Laura [sic] Myroie, author of "Bush vs. the Beltway," and critical of the CIA handling of Iraq, blamed Allawi for what she said was faulty intelligence that endangered the U.S. troops at the end of the Gulf War. The United States plans to turn over power to Iraqis by July 1. We are all hoping to see reasonable, honest people in power; we do not want to see another potential Saddam. (emphasis added)

If Mylroie doesn't like him, Chalabi doesn't like him. [So does that mean he's a good choice or a bad one?--ed. My gut says to be mildly pessimistic. The IGC chose him so they wouldn't be locked out of the next government and the spoils that come with it. There had to have been some serious quid pro quos for Allawi to get the support from the council. My one prediction, therefore, is that some corruption scandal will break between now and January.

On the other hand, play the following game -- stack the accusations made against Allawi and Chalabi side by side and see if they're exactly identical or just roughly idential.]

UPDATE: Spencer Ackerman has more on Allawi -- he's not a fan (link via David Adesnik).

posted by Dan on 05.29.04 at 08:11 PM


I’m sorry but I have nothing to add regarding the good or bad aspects of Ayad Allawi’s selection to be Iraq's new leader. What about the controversial Dr. Ahmed Chalabi? The same mostly holds true. Still, I will point out one important fact that should be noted: things are sure looking better in Iraq. Is this the lead topic for discussion? Only a short time ago, the violence dominated the headlines.

The competing ethnic and religious groups seem committed to seeking out compromise solutions to the many areas of disagreements confronting them. I’m convinced that most Iraqis desire to join the Western World and enjoy our affluent lifestyles. Aren’t some of them irritated at the United States? Yep, they are so angry at us that they watch our movies and sometimes eagerly seek visas to visit our shores. I can imagine it now: “I want the Americans out of Iraq---but I want them to take me with them! That Britney Spears is such a whore, and I’ve watched her videos over and over again so that I can knowledgeably complain about her outrageous behavior. The way she moves her body is so disgusting. “

posted by: David Thomson on 05.29.04 at 08:11 PM [permalink]

"I’m convinced that most Iraqis desire to join the Western World and enjoy our affluent lifestyles. Aren’t some of them irritated at the United States? Yep, they are so angry at us that they watch our movies and sometimes eagerly seek visas to visit our shores."

Call me a liberal, but I don't take any comfort from this. The mastermind of the terrorist attacks was apparrently quite the playboy, and many of the hijackers spent their last week drinking and whoring. Apparently you don't have to hate Western culture to be an Al-Qaida terrorist.

As for the choice of Allawi, it's good news in that it's further evidence that the CIA grownups
are in charge. But whether we had a hand in it or not -- and it seems hard to believe that we didn't -- this selection of a CIA favorite is not going to help the interim gov't gain legitimacy.

Why did we invite the UN in to give us this result? We could have done this back in Novemeber.

posted by: Carl on 05.29.04 at 08:11 PM [permalink]

Whatever Allawi's bona fides, it's pretty clear that he and the provisionals essentially committed a coup by declaration with respect to the UN selection process. Basically, the IPC just declared him to the 'da man', didn't they? Because there was surely previously no set role for the IPC to do this, was there?

They may have operated on the general notion that with the vaccuous cluelessness of Bush's position (now we're running it, now Bremer's running it, oh, yeah, now a UN guy is deciding everything!), that a power vacuum existed, and that Brahimi wouldn't have the sand to turn him back once declared.

So, who thought of this? The Provisionals themselves, some subset, Allawi or ... maybe even with some help from a faction here, eh?

posted by: Bill Skeels on 05.29.04 at 08:11 PM [permalink]

It really doesn't matter who is picked. Whoever gets chosen will be hacked at ad infinitum in the mainstream and non-mainstream press.

He or she will always have at least one item of baggage tied to murderous thugs/Batthists/the CIA/the State Department/Halliburton and thus is an American puppet.

That is, unless he or she is a complete and utter unknown, and thus a total lightweight and incapable of truly leading the new Iraq and thus is an American puppet.

Whoever it is will have gotten to the position based on compromises, threats, shady backroom deals, wads of cash, and less-than-ideal constituencies who might not have the total population's best interests at heart. In that regard, he or she will be ... just like virtually every other politician on the planet.

That's not to say that debate, discussion and of course painting ideological opponents with big brushes can't be fun as all get out and possibly even enlightening.

One things clear: All of these various and completely disparate reviews can't all be right. They could all be wrong, though.

posted by: Steve in Houston on 05.29.04 at 08:11 PM [permalink]

“It really doesn't matter who is picked. Whoever gets chosen will be hacked at ad infinitum in the mainstream and non-mainstream press.”

Democratic politics is inherently messy. A number of cynics warn that it is akin to watching sausage being made. Winston Churchill wisely observed that democracy is yucky and disgusting---but far preferable than any other political system devised by fallible human beings. Why should Iraq be any different?

posted by: David Thomson on 05.29.04 at 08:11 PM [permalink]

I'd put the emphasis in a different place: "the Bush administration did not want to be *seen* as puppetmaster on this one."

posted by: Garrett on 05.29.04 at 08:11 PM [permalink]

Why did we invite the UN in to give us this result? We could have done this back in November.

This is probably a rhetorical question, but the serious answer underscores the mistake we've made.

We tried to finesse our cronies into the driver's seat in November, but Ayatollah Sistani said, "No, thanks" and insisted that the UN be brought in to oversee a more legitimate process. Now that we've mucked with that as well, we're basically daring him to reject the whole ball of was and call for the U.S. to be evicted from Iraq.

The only thing worth knowing about Allawi is whether Ayatollah Sistani says yes or no when he asks himself, "Do I trust this guy to set up fair elections in January?" If the answer is no (which is my guess), our exit from Iraq will be sooner and a lot messier than it would be otherwise.

posted by: Swopa on 05.29.04 at 08:11 PM [permalink]

"Whole ball of was"? Umm, I mean "whole ball of wax." :-)

posted by: Swopa on 05.29.04 at 08:11 PM [permalink]

I may be mistaken here, but I believe I have read in numerous places that Allawi is Chalabi's cousin. I have also heard variously that Allawi is a Shi'ite, ex-Ba'athist, and involved with the CIA.

I don't know what all of this, along with that mentioned before, means, but it leaves me with some pessimism.

posted by: piero ruiz on 05.29.04 at 08:11 PM [permalink]

Umm ... I'm not so thrilled. One of the main thumping points of many commentators is that they've been calling for the restoration of the "grown-up Republicans". Well the truth is that the realist Republican group went senile or retired from active life. That's how the neocons or "new-right" captured the Republican party from us old-right guys.

They spent enough time brainwashing and indoctrinating the next generation, and when the guard changed it was a fait accomplit. This means that pretty much the old dogs left in the Republican circles are senile or the ones that like to hang on past their prime.

Powell, Blackwill, Bremer, etc. are good examples of this. In addition, the CIA has always been massively incompetent. It's just that under Woolesley, etc. it was more incompetent than usual. These are the guys who helped give us the present Iranian regime remember by overthrowing a secular democracy.

So I haven't been calling for Powell et al. to be put in charge. I think that the reins of power having been seized from Rumsfeld and the neo-con clique, I think we're going to be showered with excessive examples of what happens when "grown-up" Republicans go senile.

Really the only hope for the Republican party is to bring back hard-core old-right guys that are all out of government - Zinni, Odam, Hafner, Scowcroft, etc. That includes behind the scenes people and aides too.

There's just nobody left in the front ranks with anything approaching competence.

posted by: Oldman on 05.29.04 at 08:11 PM [permalink]

You mean General Odom, who five years, was all set
to invade Kosovo, through the Voivodina corridor, even though the Hungarians were not so disposed. We won't even go into the portrait that Hansen's
friend James Bamford, drew of his stewardship of the NSA. As for Zinni, anyone who was CentCom chief during the myriad debacles of Khobar towers,
Riyadh national guard bombings. the Cole, and the
three different failed operations against Saddamm;
really shouldn't crow about competence. Oldman, youwant Kissinger (ABB investor) Scowcroft (partner to Yugoslav & Sunni tyrants); Eagleburger
(Milosevic's business partner) you really want them back. Who's Hafner?

posted by: narciso on 05.29.04 at 08:11 PM [permalink]

Okay I can agree with your addition of Eagleburger. If James Baker hadn't been already been tapped I'd have suggested him too.

The fact is however that none of these military guys -Shinseki, Odom, Clark, Shinseki- have a stainless record. Each of um got drawbacks. However I think that they or Tommy Franks if given their head would have handled the situation better than file-it-away-and-pray Sanchez. Abizaid seems to know what's up, but he's been politically gagged. Time to give him what he wants rather than expecting him to ask for what we want to give. Not so happy with Myers but not dismiss-him type of unhappy.

And I've never been that thrilled about Powell, though he's not awful he's just never been as great as his reputation would have it. That's what the last few years have exposed, that his reserved bureaucratic style can make mistakes of underengagement even as they prevent mistakes of (generally) over-reach. He's overly cautious in other words, hedging himself politically too much.

Of course, him, Bremer, and Blackwill may have just put on a great snow-job. Since Pachani was greatly favored by the Bushes I don't think that the show was fake, but the idea of trying to put him up for the Presidency and then letting Allawi scoop it might have been a move to build the latter's credibility as a choice the US opposed. If they did do it that way, then they did it in such a way as to further the perception of US disarray which is bad but at least they were smart enough to do it.

If the CIA and State were still fighting for "their favorite exile" as an actual game strategy this late in the game then they are really as senile as I've accused them of their superficial tactics here implying. It could have been a good reverse-psychology move that among others Brooks has been suggesting.

Even if it was I'd guess it was too little and too late, but it's better than nothing. At least this way with them forcing themselves on the US in appearances it will give them a tiny smidgen of street cred. Whether that was intentional or enough to last through the long hot Iraqi summer to make it to end of the year elections is still a big question though.

It's not all lost, but surely things are not "getting better" so much as the US is "settling for less" and "looking for an exit strategy".

posted by: Oldman on 05.29.04 at 08:11 PM [permalink]

Sorry that was that Yawar guy that scooped Pachachi to be President. Iyad Alawi is PM. Sorry about that, with it being early morning hours and not enough time to learn the new names and titles as this all unfolds on front page news I got em mixed up.

posted by: Oldman on 05.29.04 at 08:11 PM [permalink]

It is stunning how both Paul Bremer and the Iraqi Governing Council have completely and utterly routed UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. Brahimi openly confessed that he was looking for technocrats who were neither from the exile community nor on the IGC to staff the new positions in the "sovereign" interim administration. Instead, Allawi and Yawar are both IGC members and from the exile community. So much for those plans!

posted by: General Glut on 05.29.04 at 08:11 PM [permalink]

i'm not sure i understand the jist of some of the above comments, but let me ask a simple question:

why can't the CPA find an iraqi who is NOT an exile to run the country?

this is the heart of the matter, IMO, as I seriously doubt that iraqis will accept any CPA-installed leadership when that leadership has bravely 'led' from London, etc. for the past 20 years.

and OT: how many here were surprised to learn of chalabi's iranian connections? on the left, bloggers have been noting his shady past for over three years, and even the moderate New Republic ran a not-so-flattering piece some time ago. why bush ever let that man into the building, let alone paid him ~$350K/mo for several years and gave him access to state secrets is beyond me- unless he wanted to look like a fool.

posted by: ursa corwin on 05.29.04 at 08:11 PM [permalink]

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