Without Allawi, U.S. officials Iraq government could be seen as illegitimate
The Washington Post
By Leila Fadel

BAGHDAD — Ayad Allawi had hoped his political coalition’s strong showing in Iraq’s parliamentary election would propel him to the job of prime minister. But after more than eight months of acrimonious negotiations, the secular Shiite lost his fight – and is now the greatest uncertainty as Shiite incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki moves forward with forming a new government.

In a nation divided along sectarian and ethnic lines, Allawi became a symbol of secularists and the Sunni Arab minority. The possibility that he may not participate leaves many U.S. officials – who advocated a power-sharing arrangement among Maliki, Allawi, and others – worried that the government that stands at the end of 2011, when U.S. troops are scheduled to leave, could be seen as illegitimate, worsening an already fragile security situation.

Allawi’s Iraqiya bloc won 91 seats in the March 7 vote, two more than Maliki’s State of Law bloc, but not enough to claim majority support in the 325-member parliament.

“Maliki knows very well that without me personally in this process it will be very hard for regional and democracy-loving countries to buy in,” Allawi said as he ate lunch at his kitchen table one recent afternoon. “If he doesn’t accept real power-sharing, we have to say goodbye to democracy forever and we have to think about other means, peaceful means, to alter decisions.”

Allawi’s family is in London, and his home in western Baghdad is largely empty, save for the Filipino maids who take care of the cooking and cleaning. Blast walls surround the area and military Humvees are parked outside; he has received death threats and warnings from U.S. officials that someone might try to kill him, his aides said.

A poll conducted over the summer by the International Republican Institute, a U.S. government-funded nonprofit, showed that 56 percent of the nation would not see the Iraqi government as fully legitimate if Allawi did not participate. Only 31 percent thought it would be “legitimate” or “somewhat legitimate,” according to the poll. A poll by the National Democratic Institute, another U.S. nonprofit, showed that Allawi had more appeal across political lines than Maliki and other leading politicians.

“We’re very, very interested in all of the key major players here having important roles,” U.S. ambassador to Iraq James F. Jeffrey told reporters at a briefing last month. “Ayad is one of the more important ones based upon our work with him and based upon his electoral success.”

Strongman Reputation
Allawi, prime minister during Iraq’s interim government in 2004 and 2005, became a symbol of change in the lead-up to this year’s vote. Sunni Arabs who felt marginalized by the process hoped he would end religious Shiite majority rule. Secular Iraqis hoped he would break years of sectarian politics that have plagued them since the U.S. invasion in 2003.

But Allawi also unwittingly became a symbol of the return of Saddam Hussein’s outlawed Sunni Baath party, despite breaking ranks with Hussein more than 30 years ago and working against the brutal dictator for decades.

Although Allawi was favored by U.S. officials, they grasped early on that his Shiite rivals would not accept him as prime minister. Neighboring Iran advocated heavily for Shiite unity and threw its weight behind Maliki, whom the United States also tacitly backed. Allawi’s party was largely Sunni-backed and included controversial Sunni leaders in a country where the Shiite majority and Kurdish minority remain frightened of the outlawed Baath party’s return.

“Almost all of the Shiites view Iraqiya as a Sunni bloc,” said Sami al-Askari, a Shiite legislator close to Maliki. “The feeling in the Shiite community is they are not ready yet to have a Sunni bloc forming this government.”

Allawi, much like Maliki, is seen as a man with authoritarian tendencies. But he was also seen as an American puppet when he was prime minister. During that time, he supported harsh U.S. military offensives in Shiite Arab Najaf and Sunni Fallujah. He also was rumored to have killed six suspected insurgents with his own hands – a rumor that has been denied by aides, but never by Allawi himself.

“He is seen as a symbol of the disenfranchised groups. They saw him as their best vehicle to power,” said a senior U.S. military officer who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media. “But he is also from the egocentric, strongman model. He won’t be a great leader either, but he brings together the secularists.”

Advisory Position Open
Allawi has been promised a position on a yet-to-be-formed Higher Council for National Policies whose powers are unclear. Before he agrees to take part, he said he wants to be sure the council has the ability to guide important decisions on defense, the economy, and national reconciliation, and to check the prime minister’s powers.

Parliament is supposed to vote on legislation on the nature of the job before Maliki presents his cabinet for approval next month, Allawi said.

“If they don’t come up with the proper agreement on the council, me and most of Iraqiya will not participate in this fake government,” Allawi said. “If I was Maliki after we have given this concession [of prime minister], I would really welcome him reciprocating and trying to open a new chapter, a positive one and to work with others.”

But State of Law officials call the council an “advisory” position and say they don’t expect it to have much power.

Some observers say Allawi squandered his opportunity by traveling frequently during the long negotiating process to visit his family and to meet with officials in neighboring countries, trips he said were necessary for Iraq’s international relationships.

Allawi’s political bloc, which included five major parties, was fractured, its members often looking out for their own interests. Just before they made an agreement to support Maliki last month, Iraqiya officials said Allawi agreed to the deal to stop his political bloc from crumbling beneath him.

“Unfortunately this is the style of Ayad,” said Qassim Dawoud, a former state minister in Allawi’s government. “Always Ayad doesn’t accept anything but position number one and if he cannot get this position, he’s disappointed and turns his back.”

Iraqiya is Welcome
With or without Allawi, incumbent Maliki has promised to put together a government by mid-December. Maliki’s backers believe they can offer important positions to the rest of Allawi’s coalition and garner the backing Maliki needs in parliament.

“If someone from Iraqiya does not want to join, this person will not stop the process of forming the government,” Maliki said recently. “The participation of all Iraqiya is welcome.”

Allawi warned that, if he decided not to join the government, he would remain in Iraq and work from within parliament to oppose Maliki’s government “peacefully.”

“Not to draw parallels, but I opposed Saddam on my own and when I opposed him we were only five people in the hierarchy of the Baath party,” Allawi said. “Being an extreme minority never frightened me off. . . . Even if I’m left out, I wouldn’t feel isolated. I know the sympathies of the people are with me and Iraqiya.”

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