By Gwynne Dyer
THE last thing Iyad Allawi needed right now was a photo-op of President George W Bush congratulating him on becoming prime minister of the “sovereign” (but US-appointed) government of Iraq. Wh
at he must do in order to survive, not only politically but personally, is to put as much space as possible between the himself and the United States.
So it’s just as well that security concerns – in particular last week’s killing by small-arms fire of a passenger aboard a C-130 aircraft just after take-off from Baghdad – forced Bush’s handlers to cancel his secretly planned trip to Baghdad to do the “hand-over of power” in person. Allawi doesn’t mind at all.
Every Iraqi knows what happened to Nuri Said, 14 times prime minister and London’s main instrument for controlling the British-appointed kings who ruled Iraq until 1958. When Iraqi nationalists rebelled and overthrew the puppet monarchy, they machine-gunned the young king, who was just playing the role he had been born into. But when a mob caught Nuri Said two days later, trying to escape Baghdad dressed as a woman, they tore him apart with their bare hands and left his remains in the road to be flattened by the traffic like road-kill. Iraqis do not like collaborators.
The risk of ending up the same way must haunt Iyad Allawi, for his position is quite similar. According to the latest opinion poll conducted by the Coalition Provisional Authority itself, 92% of Arab Iraqis now see Americans as occupiers, and only 2% as liberators. Allawi owes his position entirely to the United States, depends on US-controlled money for the day-to-day operations of his government, and must rely on American troops to protect him and fight the resistance. He is actually more compromised than Nuri Said was, and he knows it.
It was the dire security situation in Iraq that prompted the CPA to stage the “hand-over” two days early, to forestall the avalanche of attacks that were probably scheduled for the announced date of June 30. Security is even worse than it was during the uprisings in April, because the rebels in Falluja and the rebel Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr both effectively won their confrontations with American forces. Falluja is now a no-go area for US forces, and it serves as interim capital for the Sunni insurgents who have done most of the fighting against the occupation so far.
The young extremist Moqtada al-Sadr was neither killed nor arrested by US forces, as the CPA spokesman kept promising. Instead, his influence among the majority Shias has grown at the expense of his more moderate elders, and Najaf and Kerbala have also effectively become no-go areas for US forces.
Half of the newly recruited Iraqi police and army troops refused to fight fellow Iraqis on behalf of foreigners during the April revolts, and 10% actually switched sides and fought for the rebels. The spectacular coordinated attacks of June 25, when insurgents stormed police stations and government buildings in five cities, killing 85 and injuring 320, show how powerful the Iraqi resistance has now become. To talk of these insurgents as “terrorists” is just name-calling; terrorists do not stand and fight.
Nor are they necessarily “anti-Iraqi forces”, as US propaganda always insists; they include many Iraqis who believe, rightly or wrongly, that the Bush administration’s plans for Iraq do not include either real democracy or genuine independence. These are the people that Allawi must convince or marginalise if he is to survive.
That is why, last weekend, he emphasised the difference between “foreign
terrorist fundamentalists and criminals whose sole objective is to kill and maim innocent people” – the Islamist holy warriors who are responsible for most of the indiscriminate suicide bombings – and honest Iraqi patriots who are simply fighting to drive the Americans out. He didn’t put it exactly that way, of course, since the United States pays his bills, but that was the logic behind his offer of amnesty to “those Iraqis who have acted against the occupation out of a sense of desperation”.
An amnesty is obviously the right strategy, but that doesn’t mean it will work. Many, probably most Iraqis, do not see the “hand-over” to Allawi’s government as a new beginning. For the multitude of cynics, it’s just the exiles who came back to Iraq on the coat-tails of the US army re-arranging their deck-chairs once again. Moreover, the insurgents have the bit between their teeth, and people are less inclined to compromise when they think they’re going to win.
Allawi himself is a particular problem: he has been a prime CIA “asset” for many years, and admits to having taken money from a total of 15 foreign intelligence agencies.
All in the cause of overthrowing Saddam Hussein, he insists, and it’s probably true – but it’s not the CV you would choose if your task was to persuade sceptical Iraqi nationalists that your real master is the Iraqi people, not the United States.
Allawi is trying to show that he’s not a puppet of the American occupation forces, but it’s hard to do when the truth is that he’d be dead in a day without American protection. His press conferences are held in the heart of the Green Zone, the headquarters of the US civil administration in Iraq, and you have to pass through four checkpoints manned by American soldiers to get to them. There is not a single Iraqi soldier in sight.
* Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist.