Friday, July 23, 2004

More on Allawi

Allisa Rubin in the Los Angeles Times (registration required)

The stories have been denied by Allawi and dismissed by members of his interim government, the U.S. Embassy and a State Department spokesman. The Iraqi press has refrained from making any mention of the matter. On the other hand, former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook urged the International Committee of the Red Cross to investigate.


However, the rumor began to circulate well before the article, and its numerous iterations serve as a barometer of the mental state of many Iraqis — quite apart from whether any of the stories might be true.

Such apparent urban myths are particularly potent in a society frayed by violence and divided over whether democracy or dictatorship will best deliver the life people desire. They are also a product of a society stripped of any frame of reference for leadership other than a system that relies on the fear of violence.

Psychology professor Qassim Hussein Saleh sees the prevalence of the rumor as a sign of Iraqi society's struggle to control its fury over the violence that has become a part of daily life.

"Ordinary Iraqis are furious at those who are creating the insecurity," said Saleh, who teaches at the University of Baghdad. "When they hear the prime minister has killed these people it functions as a kind of relief … and it legitimizes their own sense of violent fury."

In many ways Allawi has played up the image of being a tough enforcer. In his public appearances, he has concentrated on security issues and has not had much to say about elections or building democracy.

He is known for arriving at the scene of suicide bombings to threaten the attackers and reiterate his government's commitment to killing or capturing them. He often uses violent language, speaking recently of "annihilating" the insurgents. His government has taken steps to reinstate the death penalty.

Tony Karron in Time

The reason the CIA had Allawi on its payroll in the first place during the 1990s was that he was the point man for efforts to have Saddam Hussein overthrown by his own generals. The idea was to get rid of the Butcher of Baghdad while keeping the rump of his regime in place to stop Iraq splintering into dangerous shards. A kind of Baathism without Saddam, in other words, its premise being that holding Iraq together required a strongman regime, but that such a strongman ought to be a relatively enlightened, pro-Western modernizer rather than an erratic sociopath like Saddam and his sons. In other words, a regime more like the one in Egypt, whose authoritarianism is more predictable: You're tortured only if the secret police suspect you're aligned with a banned (although very popular) Islamist political organization, as opposed to in Saddam's Iraq where you could be tortured to death because the leader's son wanted to rape your wife. There's no question it's an improvement, but lets not kid ourselves that it heralds any kind of sea-change in the politics of the Middle East — nor, for that matter, that it's particularly stable in the long run.

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