Allawi's Ascent

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Following on from Jeff?s post below, a few things seem clear in the Chalabi affair: First, that whereas many tended to see Chalabi?s problems as part of the rivalry between the State Department and CIA on the one hand, and the Pentagon on the other (which it was), this tended to downplay Chalabi?s actions after Iraq?s liberation as part of a domestic Iraqi struggle for power. In pushing for the elimination of the Baath?s leading centers of power ? the army, the security services and the party apparatus ? Chalabi was also trying to isolate former Baathists like the current prime minister, Iyad Allawi, who can still call upon the party?s unofficial networks. Allawi has, needless to say, won the first round.

Second, if the above is true, the U.S. has already fallen into the trap of favoring Iraq security at all costs over liberalism. That may be understandable at a time of ambient chaos, and makes political sense, but Allawi has obviously taken advantage of the American need to derive legitimacy from the interim government to overwhelm a domestic Iraqi irritant in Ahmad Chalabi. Does this mean Allawi can be a new Saddam? At this stage that seems absurd ? he does not control the powerful Kurdish militias, and has no real influence over the Shiite militias, even pro-government ones like the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). But he is building an army, and dissolution of the militias is a top priority of the interim government

What the Chalabi move has also done is ensure that Allawi (at least temporarily) has won the battle for influence in Washington, where he and Chalabi had a parallel conflict going. I?m not yet ready to read into this a defeat for Chalabi?s American neocon allies, if only because Allawi may soon begin alarming people as he takes on more power. Being tough may work in Washington now, but at some stage people will wonder whether Allawi really represents the new Arab liberalism the Bush administration claimed to be spreading when it invaded Iraq.

Finally, the ongoing U.S. attack in Najaf is, plainly, an Allawi gamble to firmly establish his power. Four of the leading Shiite clerics in Najaf are out of the city ? Ayatollah Sistani, most prominently, in London as a guest of the Khoei Foundation, whose late head, Abdel Majid al-Khoei, was allegedly killed by Muqtada al-Sadr ? in what the regional media is calling a strange coincidence. The implication is that the four clerics left town to allow the U.S. and Iraqi forces to crush Muqtada?s Mahdi Army.

If Allawi can pull this off successfully, he would have eliminated two adversaries from among his Shiite brethren in one swoop. This will set off alarm bells especially at the SCIRI and at Al-Daawa, who have ties with Iran. Indeed, with the Mahdi Army eliminated, all other armed groups will be under great pressure to disarm. Ties with Iran will, I suspect, figure prominently in this move. And what American neocon could possibly disagree?

All this may we worth remembering when we play back the recent statement by Iraqi Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan, who called Iran ?the first enemy of Iraq.?

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  1. I’d heard that Chalabi was in Iran this morning on Television, but it was local news. They may have been citing Reuters as well.

    Is it not safe to assume that Chalabi aligned his interests with the Iranians and took the Bush Administration for a ride?

    Isn’t that old news? Is Kerry not talking about this because he’s ahead in the polls, or do you think he’ll bring it up in the debates?

  2. “I?m not yet ready to read into this a defeat for Chalabi?s American neocon allies, if only because Allawi may soon begin alarming people as he takes on more power. Being tough may work in Washington now, but at some stage people will wonder whether Allawi really represents the new Arab liberalism the Bush administration claimed to be spreading when it invaded Iraq.”

    It doesn’t seem like the Bush administration really cares one way or the other, at this point. The campaign isn’t talking about Iraq, other than to drag out the old “America is safer with Saddam out of power” because he “messed around with terrorists.” Otherwise, all the campaign is talking about is Sept. 11-style terrorism, within our borders, coming soon. I’ve read various things about Rumsfeld & the neocons being punished for Iraq — cut off from power, the media, Rove’s campaign structure & Bush himself — and it at least seems true that they’ve vanished from the public eye, especially Rumsfeld.

    If Allawi can crush the major opposition in Najaf & elsewhere and stop the daily bombings, using whatever means are necessary, Iraq will fall off the news cycle completely, at least through the election. But will crushing a major militia, such as the Muqtada forces, really calm things down so much? It is impossible to tell what’s going on from here — Rumsfeld’s bitching about the reporters not leaving the hotel in Baghdad is finally almost true — but it seems like it will at least take some quiet around the Green Zone walls to get Iraq off the Nightly News.

    Somebody will have to start paying attention to Allawi (or whoever is in charge by then) after the U.S. election. I wonder if anyone on the Bush or Kerry teams is even thinking about this right now.

    Anyone know where there’s a good, detailed account of Chalabi & Allawi’s decades of animosity?

  3. “I’ve read various things about Rumsfeld & the neocons being punished for Iraq — cut off from power, the media, Rove’s campaign structure & Bush himself — and it at least seems true that they’ve vanished from the public eye, especially Rumsfeld.”

    Can you give us a link to what you’ve been reading? I’ve been calling for Rumsfeld’s head since Abu Gharib broke. There have been a number of reports linked here from Hit & Run implicating Rumsfeld in Abu Gharib, and, like I’ve been saying, if Bush wants my support back, the first thing he’s gonna have to do is dump Rumsfeld.

    …and now that you mention it, Rumsfeld hasn’t been front and center for a while now, has he?

    Of course, it’s highly unlikely that they’ll show Rumsfeld the same door they showed Tenet so close to the election, but if Bush is now giving Rummy directions so he can show himself out, well, I may sleep a little better.

  4. Somebody please explain to me how the Iraqis are better off today than they were two years ago.

    Thousands and thousands of innocent victims. Torture. And now capital punishment.

    Where’s the “better” in all that?

  5. Ken,

    Why wait for Abu Ghraib? The overriding objective of this war was to secure highly mobile, difficult to detect WMD and production equipment in a country the size of California so they would not end up in the hands of terrorists (to use some of the most repeated words of the administration). Overthrowing Saddam Hussein’s government was just a milestone on the way.

    Given those assumptions, using the minimum amount of troops required just to topple the government (which presumably was guarding the WMD and facilities) and clearly not enough to find and secure WMD sites and equipment ourselves seems awfully dangerous and incompetent.

    This Defense Department’s strategy looked to me like practically handing terrorists a golden opportunity to grab WMD Saddam probably would not have given them in the first place.

    No need to use hindsight to build the case for sacking the civilian administration in the Pentagon. Not only did they incompetently pursue the objectives they defined themselves but they silenced internal dissention over the basic flaw in their strategy.

  6. Thousands and thousands of innocent victims. Torture. And now capital punishment.

    Where’s the “better” in all that?

    The scope is smaller.

  7. If genuine elections are held when promised, all of this would seem moot. If elections are canceled, for whatever stated reason, it looms large.

  8. The scope is smaller.

    Give them time.

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