From A World to Win News Service

Iraq: A Story of Two Cousins

Revolutionary Worker #1243, June 13, 2004, posted at

We received the following from A World to Win News Service.

May 31, 2004. A World to Win News Service.It is worth comparing the rise of the U.S.'s new chief puppet in Iraq, Iyad Allawi, and the fall of his life-long rival cousin, Ahmad Chalabi.

How Allawi was chosen reveals a lot. The U.S. had asked UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to pick a new Prime Minister, the key post in the new interim government which the Bush administration declared will be "sovereign" after June 30. The idea was that by putting the decision in Brahimi's hands, the U.S. was signalling its willingness to loosen its grip on the country, even if only a very little, and compromise a bit with its European critics.

Brahimi wanted to install Hussain Shahristani, a nuclear scientist thought to be acceptable to both the U.S. and Europe. Within days, the U.S. overruled him because it was worried that Shahristani was "not sympathetic enough to American politics, particularly the Bush administration's desire for U.S. forces to have unfettered power in the country after the handover" ( Washington Post , May 31).

Then White House envoy Robert Blackwill and U.S. administrator of Iraq Paul Bremer met with the U.S.- appointed Iraqi Governing Council. Official American government sources put out the story that making Allawi the head of the new government was the Council's idea. Unofficial Iraqi sources complained that Bremer ordered the Council to rubber-stamp his choice.

The irony here is that the U.S. asked for Brahimi's help in the first place because, as The New York Times wrote, "Opinion polls show that Iraqis view the Council largely as a U.S. mouthpiece."

Informed that the decision he was supposed to make had been made for him, Brahimi's public response was that he could "live with it." Later when reporters pressed a spokesman for Kofi Annan, Brahimi's boss at the UN, for his views, he replied, "The Secretary General respects the decision, as I said Mr. Brahimi does. `Respect' is a very carefully chosen word." In other words, the UN didn't like this gangster farce but went along with it anyway.

Why the U.S. finally picked Allawi and not Chalabi is also very revealing.

Both men come from one of Iraq's main traditional ruling class families. Chalabi's father was among Iraq's richest men and his grandfather, a feudal lord, had his own personal prison where he kept serfs who failed to turn over enough of their wheat crops. That family lost much of its wealth and power in the 1958 revolutionary army coup that overthrew the monarchy. Chalabi went into exile, where he became an ally and friend of the king of Jordan. Eventually, he began working for the CIA.

Allawi's path was a little different. In 1961, he joined the Baath party that was eventually to be headed by Saddam. The party began to come to power in a U.S.-backed 1963 counter-coup marked by the slaughter of communists and other leftists and nationalists on a list supplied by the CIA. After the Baathists consolidated their grip in 1968, he was sent to medical school in London, where he became head of the Baathist student union. According to sources as diverse as Al-Jazeera and The New Republic , he also became a key figure in the Baath apparatus in Europe. A doctor who went to school with Allawi described him as a man who "carried a gun on his belt and frequently brandished it, terrorizing the medical students." Sometime in the 1970s, he also became linked to MI6, British military intelligence. It is not clear if that came before or after his public break with Saddam. In 1978, the year before Saddam came to power with CIA and MI6 support, someone tried to kill Allawi--an event shrouded in mystery even though ever since he has used it to claim anti-Saddam credentials.

His political efforts were focused on organizing contacts among top Baathist generals. It was in this capacity that he became an "asset" of the CIA, which took him over from MI6 in the early 1990s after the U.S. turned against Saddam. Allawi's 1996 CIA-sponsored attempt to organize an anti-Saddam Baghdad palace coup flopped. Nevertheless, the CIA continued to regard him as a man who could help bring about "regime change" in Iraq without dismantling the existing state apparatus. The Los Angeles Times quoted a highly informed "observer" who said, "Iyad is somebody who is military minded, wants a strong government, believes in a strong army."

For use against whom? Not the U.S.

When Allawi returned to Iraq with the U.S. occupation forces, he argued against the decision to dismantle the Iraqi army and police. The U.S. put him on the Governing Council, despite the fact that according to a CBS television news poll his support among the population is "statistically insignificant" (even more so than most of the Council). He installed his Iraqi National Accord headquarters in the old headquarters of the Baath party in the capital and across Iraq. (During an uprising in the town of Baiji, north of Baghdad, Patrick Cockburn wrote in the Independent, a crowd burned down the local INA office.) As Minister of Security, he took charge of the U.S.'s efforts to rebuild Saddam's police after the Bush administration decided to reverse course. Bremer, who took responsibility for that earlier decision, now began efforts to rebuild Saddam's armed organizations, working with Iyad Allawi and his cousin Ali Allawi, the occupation Defense Minister.

According to the Washington Post (May 1), "U.S. commanders across Iraq's 18 provinces have been asked to nominate and submit biographies of former officers who seemed friendly to American authorities. An Army colonel, who reports to Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator of Iraq, has travelled extensively, recruiting and evaluating candidates." On April 18, Ali Allawi named two former Saddam generals to head Iraq's new armed forces.

Iyad Allawi's rival Chalabi had been the protégé of Bush Vice President Dick Cheney and the civilian "neo-conservatives" who took over the Pentagon with Bush's arrival in office, especially Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. Some commentators called Chalabi's disgrace and Allawi's triumph a victory for the CIA in its long-standing squabbles with the Pentagon. But more basically, Allawi's appointment is meant to further what has now become official, unified U.S. policy: rebuilding Saddam's army and state structure under U.S. control, and trying to build a new Iraqi ruling class coalition that includes the bureaucrat capitalists who held power under Saddam.

In the 12 years before his Baghdad home was humiliatingly raided by U.S. troops and Iraqi police (under Allawi), Chalabi received more than 100 million dollars, at least 39 million from the Bush administration alone, according to Jane Mayer, writing in the New Yorker (June 7). Until last week, he was still receiving $342,000 a month.

Now the American establishment--from government to media--accuses him of misleading the U.S. about Saddam's supposed WMD. The fact is that Chalabi's lies didn't fool the U.S. government. The U.S. government used them to try to fool other people.

Another fact is that the charges now being raised against Chalabi are nothing new. It's almost funny when Bush's people express horror at the "embezzlement" committed by a man convicted of looting Jordan's second biggest bank in 1989. (It is said that when police raided the Petra Bank, they found not a single page of financial records of any kind.) The howls about Chalabi's links with the Islamic Republic of Iran and its security services are equally hypocritical, since these were also known all along and encouraged. Getting Iran's ruling mullahs to help establish a stable, pro-U.S. regime in Iraq has always been a part of the game plan. Chalabi and Allawi (and the rejected Shahristani) were all accepted by Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the Iraqi Shia leader associated with the Iranian mullahs.

What changed about Chalabi is that for the U.S., he had outrun his usefulness. His die-hard public opposition to bringing back Baathist forces only sealed his fate.

You could call Allawi Mr. 45 Minutes because he has been identified as the source of Tony Blair's now ridiculed claim that Saddam Hussein could deploy his (non-existent) weapons of mass destruction within that time frame. Another reason to call him that might turn out to be that like his enemy cousin, chief rival and fellow disposable U.S. pawn Chalabi, Allawi may not last too long.