Saturday, November 18, 2006
Allawi shapes up as Iraq's iron man
"A FORMER Iraqi prime minister who is tipped to return as a “strongman” leader if Baghdad’s faltering government falls has challenged the American-led coalition’s objective of creating a western-style democracy even though the country is in turmoil.
Iyad Allawi, an ally of the United States and Britain who ran the first Iraqi government after the fall of Saddam Hussein, said that elections were no solution when the overriding problem was a security crisis caused by militias who had infiltrated the police and were killing with impunity. The slaughter has triggered an exodus of middle-class professionals.
“Iraq was not and is not ready for elections,” Allawi said in an interview last week.
With sectarian violence spiralling out of control and the government of Nouri al-Maliki unable to stop it, Allawi said that various political groupings were discussing alternatives.
These included the possibility that Iraq’s parliament might now be forced to override the results of last January’s elections and appoint a new administration of technocrats with free rein to confront the militias head on if necessary.
Maliki has repeatedly promised to disarm the death squads but has failed to curb the powers of the Mahdi army headed by Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shi’ite cleric, or the Badr organisation, the armed wing of one of the leading political parties, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Maliki depends heavily on the support of Sadr and SCIRI.
Allawi believes that if the militias refuse to halt their violence they should be wiped out. “We need to have a strong core of military and police loyal to the country with a clear cut leadership who can implement law and order in the country and take the militias out — by force if necessary, if dialogue fails,” he said.
He also warned that a crackdown would require a radical overhaul of the security forces and the establishment of a new police service capable of commanding trust. The current forces lacked a strong chain of command, he said, and most of the people in them owed their allegiance to particular political leaders rather than the country as a whole.
Allawi’s comments coincided with growing speculation that the Iraq Study Group, co-chaired by James Baker, the former US secretary of state, will conclude in its report next month that stability and security are the most important objectives, rather than an American-imposed ideal of democracy.
One idea circulating in Washington is to let a “strongman” impose order, allowing US forces to hand over responsibility for security to the Iraqis and begin a staged withdrawal. George W Bush recently had to reassure Maliki that he was not seeking to unseat him, but he has gone on to define success in Iraq as “a government that can defend, govern and sustain itself”, toning down his prodemocracy rhetoric.
Iraqi politicians have held discreet meetings in recent weeks to discuss a change of government, including talks in Dubai. Allawi denied taking part but confirmed that he was aware of the Dubai talks and others in Baghdad and Amman. Some are understood to have been conducted with the knowledge of American officials.
Asked whether he would be willing to lead a new government, Allawi said he had found his premiership “so lonely” — but hinted that he could be ready to “give it a final try”.
“Things cannot be left as they stand now,” said Allawi.
The present government needed help to be strong but if it could not do its job, new people should be appointed to senior posts or a fresh administration formed, he said. Otherwise violence, extremism and sectarianism would escalate and institutionalised militias would end up controlling every region of the country and even the judiciary." "