Friday, May 25, 2007

Iraqi fmr-PM Iyad Allawi

The guest today on Al Jazeera English's weekly Inside Iraq discussion program was Iyad Allawi, the former prime minister of Iraq. Dr. Allawi was at one time a member of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, but he resigned from the party in 1975 because of Saddam's increasingly dictatorial governance. He lived in exile in London, surviving an assassination attempt. In the 1990's he began working actively to overthrow Saddam. During that time, he cooperated with American and British intelligence services, relaying to the British a report that Saddam's army could deploy its [non-existent] WMDs within 45 minutes.

Allawi became Minister of Defence under the Coalition Provisional Authority in 2003, and became interim prime minister of Iraq in 2004, appointed by Paul Bremer. His close ties to the U.S. and British governments led many Iraqis to mistrust him. His domestic credibility was further weakened in 2004 when he authorized the U.S. military "coalition forces" to conduct major offensives in Fallujah and Najaf. He also closed the Iraqi operations of Al Jazeera. In the election in January 2005, Allawi's party, the Iraqi National Accord, came in third with only 14% of the vote. In the December 2005 elections, Allawi's bloc, renamed the Iraqi National List, did even worse, losing almost 40% of its seats in parliament. However, he is now gearing up for an attempt to replace Nouri al-Maliki (نوري كامل المالكي), the current prime minister.

In today's interview, Allawi emphasized the need for a secular government in Iraq, with its institutions not structured around sectarian divisions (Sunni, Shia, Kurd, etc.). He even expressed optimism that Iraq will one day see a female prime minister. However, the picture of him is considerably more complex. There is a rumor, mentioned in the interview, that he personally shot six prisoners as a Saddam-esque show of strength. This rumor was printed in two Australian newspapers, claiming independent corroboration, and even naming some of the alleged witnesses. Allawi's checkered past, agitating for Saddam's overthrow with help from the U.S. and the U.K., his ties with other suspicious characters like Ahmed Chalabi, his forwarding of bogus intel to MI-6, and his sanctioning of U.S. military operations in Fallujah and Najaf, all must be taken into account in assessing the man, his credibility, and his potential future political career. In a perfect world, perhaps he could be a more even-handed "Saddam Lite," ruling with just enough of an iron fist to quell the civil war, and then retiring into the sunset as soon as basic security and the mechanisms of a stable democracy were established.

Here is the transcript of the interview between Al Jazeera English's Jassim al-Azzawi and Iraqi former prime minister Iyad Allawi. To make it easier to follow, since the names Azzawi and Allawi are so close, I have abbreviated the host's name to Jasim.
Jasim Azzawi: Hello, and welcome to Inside Iraq. I'm Jasim Azzawi. He's ruthless, cunning, and brutally frank. He spent years in exile honing his political skills and survival instinct. My guest today, the former Iraqi prime minister, Dr. Iyad Allawi (اياد علاو), is building a new secular liberal bloc to challenge al-Maliki's government. Al-Maliki's sectarian government has failed, irrelevant, and must leave office, he says. But can Allawi succeed this time, and why should the Iraqi people give him a second chance? Nadim Baba reports.
Nadim Baba: A scene from another time. Some might say, another Iraq. Iyad Allawi became the head of the interim government, promising security and reconstruction, but he didn't have long to make his mark. Half a year later, general elections ushered in a new administration. Fast-forward to 2007, and Allawi's promising he can turn Iraq's lawlessness around. Earlier this month, he told Al Jazeera about his priorities, if he were back in power.
Iyad Allawi: [file footage] Dismantling the laws which have been divisive, including de-Baathification, including the laws which dismantled the Iraqi military and Iraqi security forces, the Iraqi institutions, and to move away from sectarianism and to get rid of militias.

[unknown]: I think many of the liberal people in Iraq, those who are not sectarian-oriented, will be ready to back, not precisely Allawi, but anyone who present[s] an equation that will preserve the Iraqi nationalist identity. If he will behave the same way, I think he will win the minds and hearts of the people.
Baba: But some minds were made up a long time ago, when Allawi, a former Baathist who spent years in exile, cooperated with the coalition. But it's not just his previous closeness with Washington that some take issue with. Iyad Allawi also made political enemies by going along with two major operations when he was interim prime minister. One was the assault on the Sunni city of Fallujah, which reportedly saw hundreds of civilians killed, as well as dozens of U.S. troops. The other was in Najaf; the Shia holy city witnessed fierce clashes between U.S. forces and fighters loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr.
[unknown]: He should not have endorsed both the assaults on Fallujah and Najaf. Targeting people in a very wide-spectrum way, the way which the oppression powers are doing in the country, is what resulted what is there, the country now. You know, the hatred, which was grown.
Baba: But Allawi insists it's now time for the Iraqi government to talk to the various armed groups, and he believes most of the population agree with him. Nadim Baba for Inside Iraq.
Jasim: I am joined now from Amman, Jordan, by former Iraqi prime minister, Dr. Iyad Allawi. Dr. al-Allawi, welcome to Inside Iraq. You are very well known for being bold and frank, and let's hope today some of that boldness and frankness will come through at the expense of the politician and diplomat in you.

Dr. Iyad Allawi: Thank you.

Jasim: Let's start by the coalition and you are building the bloc you are trying to achieve. You are on record saying that Iraq needs a secular, liberal, nationalistic government. Will you succeed? Can you really pull it off?

Allawi: We have to succeed. There is no other route for Iraq but to succeed. I think sectarianism is a manifestation of extremism, and extremism is rejected mostly by the Iraqi people, by the Arabs, by the region, and we are very hopeful that this stand will continue to make way inside Iraq, and to build for a non-sectarian Iraqi government that could take Iraq and the region to the shores of peace, stability, and development.

Jasim: Does that mean you are a serious contender to be the next prime minister? Is this really in the cards, that you are coming next, or is this some sort of an American ploy to make you the scarecrow to scare al-Maliki to do what the Americans want him to do?

Allawi: I assure you, we respect to the Americans, we respect to our relations with the Americans, but what we are doing have nothing to do with the United States. It's an Iraqi aspiration. It's an Iraqi action by various people who believe in a non-sectarian Iraq, who want to build a national identity worthy of the Iraqi people of the region, and we want to move forward in this area, to salvage, frankly, our country, which is slipping away into catastrophe.

Jasim: The Iraqi president, Jalal Talibani (جه لال تاله با), two days ago was saying that, "We will crush any attempt, any coup-d'état, against the al-Maliki government." Was he referring to you, or was he referring to other forces, in the military, perhaps, that have had enough with this sectarianism?

Allawi: Maybe, I don't know to whom he was referring; I had some good meetings with him in London recently, and indeed nobody of us believes in military coups. He does not believe in a military coup, we don't believe in a military coup, what we believe in is that the bloodshed in Iraq should stop. The slipping of Iraq into complete and full anarchy and chaos should stop, and we should really change the whole political process into a non-sectarian political process which believes in all Iraq, as a wholesome Iraq, as one Iraq, as Iraq which belongs to all Iraqis regardless of the sect, region, or ethnic group that Iraq has come from.

Jasim: Unfortunately, that doesn't seem possible right now. The very coloration of the Iraqi government is sectarianism. It has become institutionalized, whether it's in the parliament or in the parties, or even in Baghdad, your beloved city, right now, [inaudible] is pretty much Shias and Sunnis. Now people are talking about in these terms, are you sure that you will be able to pull up enough nationalist Iraqis to say, "To hell with sectarianism! It is time to look after our own country!"?

Allawi: Well, Jasim, what I can use to convince you and to convince any person who is doubtful, that even some of the sectarian forces in the government are now calling for an Iraqi national program to save Iraq from sectarianism.

Jasim: Why is that? Because they've failed to get what they want now? They see nationalism, perhaps, as the way?

Allawi: They failed, number one. They not only failed miserably, but the country has been thrown into complete chaos, as you can see. Not only that, the region, what has happened in Iraq is spilling over to the region. The fact that this is causing a rebound phenomenon, where people now, even those who bought into sectarianism, now are trying to leave sectarianism and to embark on national reconciliation and a national program for the whole country. This is a very, indeed a very encouraging sign, and we should encourage this, and we are accordingly having dialogue with all members, all parties, all groups, to try and bring them to an Iraqi national program.

Jasim: Having said what you said just now, Dr. Iyad Allawi, still, as an observer from outside, people find it very difficult to say sectarianism will be out, because the very people who are in power, whether it's SCIRI, al-Majlis al-alalith-thaura l-islamiyya, whether it's al Tayar al-Sadri, the Sadrist movement, you know, their grass roots, since 2003, they accentuated this, they built on it, they pretty much invested all their rhetoric and all their political power to create that sectarianism which is giving them dividends. Now you think suddenly they're going to give it up and say, "We are all Iraqis"?

Allawi: Well, frankly, Jasim, there are important issues to remember. Definitely sectarianism, across the board, do[es] prevail in Iraq, and those who believe in sectarianism, unfortunately, have been taking the law into their [own] hands. One of the direct reasons, once the state of Iraq was dismantled, was that people had to revert to their clans, to their sects, to their tribes, to their neighborhoods, for protection. This was a grave mistake committed in Iraq, and this mistake led to various other mistakes that have been committed, leading and paving the way to sectarianism to prevail in Iraq. Now, after a few years of bloodshed, catastrophe, chaos, and damage, refugees, displacements, people have realized that sectarianism is not really the right path for Iraq.

Jasim: Let's spring forward, let's go to 2007. Now you are trying to put this coalition, this bloc, and people in Iraq, they have long memory. People don't forget what happened to them. People, they accuse you for the Fallujah bombing, for the Fallujah incursion, and people in the Sadris, you know, they remember 2004, the fighting in Najaf. How can you get Jabhat al-Tawafuq [Iraqi Accord Front, a Sunni Arab Islamist party], how can you get the Sunnis and the Sadris, in order to join you? People say, "He was the man who told the Americans to go after us."

Allawi: I was, frankly, even-handed with all those who tried to take the law into their [own] hands. Me, as a prime minister then, I had important tasks to perform. One of them was to build a modern state, a strong state, and to get the army back and the military, the police, and so on, and security, and secondly, really, to tackle the issue of law and order.

Jasim: Today, of all days, Moqtada al-Sadr (مقتدى الصدر), the firebrand cleric of al Tayar al-Sadri [Sadrist Bloc], appeared, and you know, he was [inaudible] of the mosque, he disappeared for quite a number of months. First of all, how do you look at his reappearance? What does it say? Is there some kind of agreement with the Americans that they are not going to target him?

Allawi: I don't think there's an agreement between him and the Americans. I think Moqtada al-Sadr was, all the way through, in Iraq, despite what had been said that he had fled the country. My information, he was in Iraq. I think his reappearance should give way to engage him in dialogue and constructive dialogue, like the rest of the groups who do exist in Iraq, and let us not forget that al-Sadr have about 30 members in parliament, representing him and he need to be accommodated, he need to be part of a national Iraqi program, and his people have been very critical of the government, and they have withdrawn from the government, from the cabinet, as well as making the right appeal in the parliament, by denouncing sectarianism.

Jasim: Dr. Allawi, before I take a break, a short answer if you would: because there is so much accusation against him, especially by the Americans, there is so much blood on his hands, can you really work with [Moqtada al-Sadr], can you really get him into your bloc?

Allawi: Well, we should not take the American accusation into account by talking to Iraqi people. We should talk to Iraqis, all Iraqis, but with very clear vision that Iraq is for all Iraqis, and we should all respect the law and order, and respect the basic rights of all Iraqis and refrain from using and embarking on militias, and allow the government, any government, to build the right forces for the country.

Jasim: Yes. Dr. Iyad Allawi, we will take a short break now. When we come back, I'm going to ask the former Iraqi prime minister about his views about the Iraqi resistance. Stay with us.

[commercial break]
[Coming back from the commercial break, the program showed a photo of Senator John Kerry (D–MA), with the following quote: "Prime Minister Allawi's trip to the United States was filled with all the wrong lessons, lessons from an administration that just can't seem to tell the truth when it comes to Iraq." However, the quote is actually from John Edwards (D–NC). Note also that, contrary to many U.S. news reports at the time, Senator Edwards was criticizing the Bush administration, at least as much as the administration of Prime Minister Allawi.

Kerry: The prime minister and the president are here obviously to put their best face on the policy. But the fact is that CIA estimates, the reporting, the ground operations and the troops all tell a different story. — U.S. Senator John Kerry (D–MA, candidate for President), 2004-09-23, at a press conference after then-Prime Minister Allawi addressed the U.S. Congress.

Edwards: The administration's credibility on Iraq collapsed today. Over the past 24 hours, the President, the Vice President, the Secretary of Defense and the Under Secretary of State have all contradicted each other on elections in Iraq. For a President who is fond of saying we should not send mixed messages — you need a scorecard today to keep up with all the different and contradictory statements from the White House. The President also talked about the need to support Prime Minister Allawi. The best lesson for any fledgling democracy is that leaders should tell the truth, to always be straight with the people. Prime Minister Allawi's trip to the United States was filled with all the wrong lessons, lessons from an administration that just can't seem to tell the truth when it comes to Iraq. — U.S. Senator John Edwards (D–NC, Kerry's vice-presidential running mate), 2004-09-24

Sources: The Washington Times, 2004-09-25, "Bush slams Kerry over 'brave' Iraqi," by Bill Sammon; Daily Kos, 2004-09-24, "Edwards keeps up the heat," by Kos.
Jasim: Welcome back to Inside Iraq. Today, we are talking to the former Iraqi prime minister, and will he be the next man in Baghdad? Let me just quote you something from June 28, 2004, when you said that any attack against the Americans is terrorism. Do you still hold that view, and, before we started, you said this is a purely Iraqi issue, it has nothing to do with the Americans, but the Americans are in Iraq, they are the most powerful entity in Iraq; what are your views about Iraqi resistance?

Allawi: Well, to be very, very open on this topic, I just had a meeting a few days ago in a regional country with some of the resistance who had been asked by the Americans to go and negotiate in Baghdad on new terms and conditions to lay down their arms and to readjust the political process so it fits a non-sectarian Iraq, Iraq for all Iraqis. Those people came to seek my views and advice, and I said that it is important to have this dialogue, but let us remember all that we Iraqis will solve our own problems amongst ourselves, but since the Americans are there, it's very important to have a dialogue with them, and to continue this dialogue, and I encouraged them, and I think the dialogue is going to take place this coming week.

Jasim: Dr. Iyad, these are your views. The views of the Iraqi government, represented by Jalal Talibani and Maliki and as recent as two days ago by [Iraqi foreign minister] Hoshyar Zebari, they don't want the Americans out. They said the Americans should stay; as a matter of fact, when there was talk about a U.S. pull-out, Jalal Talibani raised his hand; he said, "If you want bases, come to the north! Bring your forces here and stay there." So how do you tally those two conflicting ideas?

Allawi: No, these are not conflicting. The Americans are there. We need to talk to them, all of us. We need to create the right environment for the United States to withdraw from Iraq, and to build our institutions, national institutions, capable of challenging and facing the threats that are posed on Iraq, and to keep the country unified. That's why I think it's a very important step that the American now have decided again, because there were discussions in my house, in Iraq, between Americans and the resistance, and now the resistance, or at least part of it, sought my views, and I encouraged them to have these discussions because I think such discussions —

Jasim: Unless the Iraqi government is on record, and more importantly the American government is on record, that they specify a date specific for the total withdrawal from Iraq, the resistance are not going to lay down their arms; that has become amply clear to everybody.

Allawi: Yes, that's correct, and that's why the negotiations now are very important, and the issue of withdrawal should come up in the negotiations.

Jasim: Okay, moving on, Dr. Iyad. Let's talk about this "building block," this new coalition in Iraq you are trying to achieve. One of the key components for that to succeed will be the Kurds. They have almost 75 members in parliament. You have about 25 votes, Jabhat al-Tawafuq [Iraqi Accord Front] has others; in order to topple al-Maliki, you definitely need the Kurds, but the Kurds drive a very hard bargain. They want Kirkuk (كه‌ركوو), and they want federalism, and that by itself is a recipe for future tension and perhaps even conflict, so how are you going to square this?

Allawi: It is definitely — the Kurds are a very important component of Iraq, and they are in fact now as it stands, hold the balance of power inside Iraq. It is extremely important for us to talk to them. On the issues you raised, there are discussions on the Kirkuk issue, federation —

Jasim: Will you give them Kirkuk?

Allawi: It's not a matter of give and take Kirkuk, it's a matter of discussing —

Jasim: Now it is. Dr. Iyad, now, as far as the Kurds are saying, you know, "We need Kirkuk; Kirkuk is going to be the capital of Kurdistan." As a matter of fact, [President of the Kurdish Autonomous Region of Iraq] Massoud Barzani (مه‌سعوود بارزان) is on record: he said, "If Kirkuk is not given to us, we will take it by force." You remember what happened: [PM of Turkey] Erdoğan called him all the way to Turkey, and he said, "Don't say this again, because it is going to hurt you."

Allawi: Massoud Barzani is a very dear friend of mine. I met him very recently, 10 days ago, and we spoke about various issues, including the Kirkuk issue. He was a very pragmatic person. I think we can reach to a common understanding.

Jasim: Let me stop you here for a just a second. How can he be pragmatic when he lets his militia, he lets the peshmerga go into Baghdad as recently as now, and there are many, many demonstrations that the peshmergas [Kurdish militias] are fighting in these cities. You know very well — we just started by saying that Iraqis don't forget and don't forgive. Can you see how the usage of the peshmerga, whether it's by the Americans or by al-Maliki, will it create a future conflict between the South and the North, between the Arabs and the Kurds? How can he be pragmatic and a diplomat by doing that?

Allawi: Well, Jasim, I am not sure whether it is the peshmerga —

Jasim: It is. It is.

Allawi: — or some of the Iraqi forces. We don't know what the rumors are. I'm not party, frankly, to solid information. But I know Massoud, I have known Massoud for a very long time. We have discussed, we have been through very difficult stages. I know that he is a compromising person, and I know that he is a person who believes in Iraq. This is to be very honest. I'm not saying this because I want to imagine things, but I know Massoud Barzani very well, I trust him a lot, and I talk to him very openly. There are areas where we differ significantly, but there are other issues that we share common views.

Jasim: A few questions, if you could answer them rather quickly. You are very well known against the turbans, against the theocracy, but yet the major forces in Iraq, whether it's Abdul Aziz al-Hakim [leader of the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, formerly SCIRI] or Moqtada al-Sadr or even a Sistani, they are ruling in the name of religion. How do you get religion out of the formula?

Allawi: Sistani is saying — Sistani is different. He does not get involved in politics, and there are political groups who believe in Islam and the theory of Islam, and sectarianism. This is something which has caused a lot of problems in Iraq and will continue to cause problems in Iraq.

Jasim: One of the things that is causing a lot of problems in Iraq is corruption. The man in charge of reconstructing Iraq, Stuart Bowen, is saying that corruption in Iraq is the second insurgency. Billions of dollars are stolen by Iraqi politicians leaving Iraq, and nothing is happening. There is no construction and Iraq is teetering on the brink of failure.

Allawi: Iraq is at a complete standstill. The country is at a standstill. Services are nil. And corruption is extremely high. The way of tackling corruption is really by reinstating the institutions of the country and making them functional, but based on non-sectarian institutions.

Jasim: You are very well known, being frank, being tough; as a matter of fact, there are some rumors about you that on the eve of your becoming prime minister, you shot blindfoldedly six people. You must have heard the rumors.

Allawi: I have heard, but it's a rumor.

Jasim: How tough in Iraq would have to be in order to become the new prime minister of Iraq? Al-Maliki is viewed as very weak and he cannot achieve anything; will you be Iraq's next prime minister?

Allawi: I don't know, but I know any prime minister should be bold, should be courageous, should have vision, should be able to make decisions, and most importantly should be able to implement decisions. For this to be done in Iraq, you need a courageous man to be in charge, a man who believes in Iraq and the whole of the country — a man or a woman, in fact, but a man now — we are talking about boldness, about decisiveness, and this is very important for the country, otherwise the country is not going to function.

Jasim: We are way off, Dr. Iyad Allawi, from an Iraqi prime minister woman, but perhaps we can wait for that.

Allawi: Maybe. I hope so, maybe, one day.

Jasim: Former Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi. Thank you very much.

Allawi: Thank you, Jasim.

Jasim: To access our show, and to send us your comments, please go to our website, We have reached the end of our show for this week. Join me next week when we take another look Inside Iraq. Good-bye.
Copyright ©2007, Al Jazeera English.

You may also be interested in the interview with Ali Allawi (Iyad Allawi's brother, also a former member of the Iraqi government) on Comedy Central's Daily Show with Jon Stewart: transcript, or the video of Ali Allawi's appearance on Al Jazeera English's Riz Khan program 2007-05-09. You can also go to the Al Jazeera English home page, or visit their YouTube page, with a smattering of video clips from various programs. I particularly recommend the mini-series Mo and Me, about a pioneering African photojournalist, Mohammed Amin.

I also have transcripts of Inside Iraq for these dates: 2007-05-18 [Capt. Frank Pascual, Abd al-Bari Atwan, Rohan Gunaratna]; 2007-05-11 [Hamid Al-Bayati (Iraqi UN amb.), Anas Altikriti], 2007-04-27 [Larry Wilkerson (Colin Powell's fmr chief of staff)], and 2007-01-26 [Capt. Frank Pascual, Shaikh Yusuf al-Nasri (aide to Moqtada al-Sadr), Mohammed al Douri (fmr Iraqi UN amb.), Brad Blakeman (fmr advisor to Pres. Bush)]

And of course, if you found this content interesting, please check out the rest of my blog.

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