Will Iraq's Allawi Use An Iron Fist?

Ayad Allawi's friends describe the Prime Minister appointed on June 2 to head Iraq's new interim government in the same way. "Ayad is a practical man," they say. Strife-torn Iraq is badly in need of pragmatism, and Allawi's supporters say he has the political experience and sound judgment that could give him a fair chance at bringing an end to the chaos that plagues much of the country.

Allawi is expected to use the new government's most powerful position to be tough -- even ruthless -- with criminals and organizers of political violence. He'll also try to convince people who benefited from the ousted regime of Saddam Hussein that they can prosper in the new Iraq. Some associates say Allawi, a 58-year-old former exile who chaired the security committee of the now disbanded Iraqi Governing Council, doesn't think Iraq is ready for anything close to Western democracy. He plans to focus on building up the Iraqi military, police, and internal intelligence services. "I think he will succeed in creating not a fully democratic state but something on the model of Jordan or Egypt," says Ghanim Jawad, a human rights campaigner at the Al-Khoei Foundation, a Shiite charitable organization in London. In short, Iraq under Allawi might come to resemble other tightly policed Arab states.

To keep order in the months leading up to next January's elections, Allawi will have to appeal to disparate groups. Unlike many other Iraqi politicians, he has the potential to do that. He hails from a prominent family of the majority Shia Muslim sect. But he was, unusually for a Shia, a Baathist student leader during the coups and purges that brought the party to power in the 1960s. Allawi broke with Saddam in the early '70s, after moving to London. He founded the Iraqi National Accord (INA), an exile group whose efforts to destabilize Saddam's regime received CIA support.

Although trained as a neurologist, Allawi honed his tough-guy image through brutal clashes with the Saddam regime. In 1978, he was seriously wounded by an ax-wielding assailant, likely sent by Saddam, who broke into his London home. In the mid-'90s, Allawi's group worked with the CIA to establish a network of recruits inside Iraq who planned to bomb radio stations and rail lines. But Saddam uncovered and executed dozens of the rebels, dealing the INA a huge setback.


Because of his CIA connection, Allawi now risks being branded an American puppet. But he's not hesitating to correct what he considers to be missteps by Washington. He thinks the U.S. decision to dissolve the Iraqi military and bar senior Baathists from responsible positions was an enormous error that deprived Iraq of talent and unnecessarily created enemies. His government includes two former Baathists and appears designed to appease the Sunni minority. Allawi gave the key post of Interior Minister to Falah al-Naqib, a general's son who serves as a governor in the Sunni triangle.

These efforts may not be enough to quell the violence. "I think the insurgency is going to run and run," says Toby Dodge, an Iraq specialist at Britain's Warwick University who doubts Allawi can build up the military fast enough. Still, in the Iraqi context, drafting a leader schooled in the art of intrigue to restore order makes sense.

By Stanley Reed in London

Edited by Rose Brady

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