[Marxism] The US's inevitable dictator

Marvin Gandall marvgandall at rogers.com
Sun Jul 11 07:15:25 MDT 2004

(It was bound to come to this - something which always eludes liberal
imperialists like George Ignatieff and Thomas Friedman, seduced by the
promise that US intervention abroad, however messy, will yield democratic
results. The Pentagon’s widely discredited choice for strongman, Ahmed
Chalabi, was forced to give way, so to the CIA’s nominee, Iyad Allawi, was
the only possible alternative. Now the repression-with-an-Iraqi-face will
begin in earnest. What Allawi would seem to have going for him is the
understandable longing for stability and orderly development by the mass of
the Iraqi population. But, like Chalabi, he is an exile who hasn’t a base,
unlike most dictators who emerge from the armed forces or a mass fascist
movement, and, as the article indicates, he will face formidable opposition
from both from the anti-occupation resistance forces and from Shia and other
rivals within the US-appointed puppet administration.)
A Tough Guy Tries to Tame Iraq
By Dexter Filkins
New York Times
July 11, 2004

BAGHDAD, Iraq — Throughout this war-ravaged land, where facts are hard to
come by, rumor and innuendo can often serve as the most reliable measure of
the Iraqi mood. Consider the lurid tale about Iyad Allawi, the new Iraqi
prime minister, that made the rounds in the Iraqi capital last week.

Late one night before taking power, the story went, Mr. Allawi was not to be
found cramming for his new job but instead was in the innards of a Baghdad
prison, overseeing the interrogation of a cabal of Lebanese terrorists. No
one was talking.

"Bring me an ax," the prime minister is said to have announced. With that,
the story went, Mr. Allawi lopped off the hand of one the Lebanese men, and
the group quickly spilled everything they knew.

The tale passed from ear to ear, much like the rumors blaming the Americans
for the many explosions that mar the capital. But in this case, the
remarkable thing was that the story about Mr. Allawi was not greeted with
expressions of horror or malice, but with nods and smiles.

After months of terror and anarchy here, many Iraqis are only too happy to
believe that their new prime minister is a tough guy who is on their side.

Mr. Allawi's hard-nosed reputation, even the unearned parts, is indicative
of the unusual ways in which the country's interim government, which took
over on June 28, appears to be acquiring a measure of legitimacy among the
Iraqi people.

Unelected, headed by an exile and chosen largely by diplomats from the
United States and the United Nations, the new Iraqi government nonetheless
appears to be enjoying something of a honeymoon, even as Mr. Allawi has
quickly embarked on a series of sweeping and potentially draconian measures
aimed at quelling the guerrilla insurgency.

Yet Mr. Allawi also faces a conundrum in the coming months: as he tries to
assert Iraqi control and bring a degree of order to this country, thereby
gaining the gratitude of many Iraqis, he will risk alienating the very
group, the country's Sunni Arab minority, from which an overwhelming
majority of the violence here has been generated.

Among Iraq's three major groups, it is the Sunni Arabs who are still most
broadly resisting the American-sponsored framework that is designed to lead
the country toward democratic rule next year. Iraq's Shiites, the country's
largest group, are hungry for elections that promise them their first real
shot at political power. The Kurds, America's closest friends, seem to be
planning to hunker down and watch events from their stronghold in the north.

Without the support of the Sunni Arabs, a minority that has dominated the
country for five centuries, it seems unlikely that Mr. Allawi will make much
headway in bringing a measure of stability in time to hand over power to a
democratically elected government next year.

Indeed, without some success in winning over the towns and villages of the
Sunni Triangle, the area north and west of Baghdad where the insurgency is
still churning, it is conceivable that the nationwide elections scheduled to
be held by January might have to be postponed or even forgone in significant
parts of the country.

In some ways, Mr. Allawi seems to be the perfect man, under the
circumstances, to bring this fractious country together. As a Shiite, he is
a member of the country's largest group, and although he is thought to be a
largely secular man, his ascension to the post of prime minister was not
opposed by Iraq's most powerful religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali

Mr. Allawi is known for his decade of work in trying to topple Mr. Hussein,
but he is a former Baathist himself, with suggestions among those who regard
him with suspicion that he once engaged in thuggish work on the party's
behalf. That tough-guy past, even his former association with the Central
Intelligence Agency, seems to warm the hearts of many Iraqis who miss Mr.
Hussein's iron-fisted ways.

"That Allawi worked for the C.I.A. may be a problem for Americans," an Iraqi
journalist said in conversation recently, "but it is not a problem for

In his first week in office, Mr. Allawi came out fast and hard, signing a
law that granted the government broad powers to quell dissent and disorder.
But in an equally significant way, Mr. Allawi signaled that he was prepared
to reach an accommodation with many of those, including the former
Baathists, who have been battling the American occupation.

In a series of statements, Mr. Allawi suggested that he believed he could
split the insurgency and thereby break it, wooing his former comrades in the
Baath Party into the mainstream of public life. He appears to be banking on
the hope that ordinary Iraqis are appalled by the wanton slaughter of so
many of their countrymen, in car bombings and terrorist attacks, and on the
presumption that such attacks are largely the work of a relatively small
number of home-grown Islamic fundamentalists, along with foreign terrorists
like Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian suspected of masterminding many of
the attacks on civilians.

Mr. Allawi said he was considering, among other things, an offer of amnesty
to the guerrillas, who could be spared execution or prison in exchange for
their cooperation and a promise to put down their guns.

"We can't give amnesty to, say, a criminal like Zarqawi," Mr. Allawi said
last week. "We have to bring him to justice. But there are people who have
been doing things around the periphery and who call themselves the

"I spoke to some of them myself," Mr. Allawi continued. "I told them: What
are you trying to achieve? Let us know. Do you want to bring Saddam back to
rule Iraq? Do you want to bring bin Laden to rule Iraq? We will fight you.
You can't do this."

"You want to be part of the political process?" he said, posing the crucial
question. "You are welcome to be part of the political process, provided
that you sever your relations to the hard-core criminals and the

There are hints that at least some Sunni Arab leaders are seriously
considering Mr. Allawi's offer. There are signs, too, even dramatic ones,
that fissures are opening up inside the Sunni-driven insurgency.

Last week, a militant group issued a video in which it threatened to kill
Mr. Zarqawi, saying it was fed up with the mayhem he had caused.

The success or failure of Mr. Allawi's efforts could ride on the extent to
which he is perceived as being independent of the Americans, who have
inadvertently united several disparate groups who oppose their presence

"Because they are Iraqis, we will give them a chance," Abdul-Sattar
Abdul-Jabbar, a top Sunni cleric, said of the new government.

But Mr. Abdul-Jabbar is not bursting with optimism.

As long as American soldiers remain on Iraqi soil, he said, most Iraqis in
the Sunni Triangle will withhold their approval of the new government.

Mr. Abdul-Jabbar pointed to a press release in which Mr. Allawi's office
said last week that the prime minister had approved of, and even assisted
in, an American air strike on the city of Falluja.

"Is it the duty of the Iraqi national army to participate with the
occupation, assisting them in bombing an Iraqi city?" Mr. Abdul-Jabbar
asked. "This will make us all as Iraqis - whether resistance or ordinary
people - mistrust them."

But the suspicion appears to cut both ways. The most important factor in
determining the legitimacy of the new Iraqi government may turn out to be
how far the Shiites are willing to let Mr. Allawi go. Even some members of
Mr. Allawi's government are skeptical of his efforts to bring the
beneficiaries of Mr. Hussein's regime to heel.

"These people," Mowaffak al-Rubaie, Mr. Allawi's national security adviser
and a Shiite, said of the Baathists, "they have to be in charge."

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