The Washington Post
Allawi's Premature Victory Lap
By Jim Hoagland
September 19, 2004

Americans who resist basing judgments about world events on partisan or
personal preferences confront a dilemma in assessing the current course of
the war in Iraq. And the coming week will only sharpen that dilemma.

For reasons of electoral self-interest, the Bush administration will portray
Iraq as being carried by tides of progress inexorably toward shores of
stability. The White House is calling in Iraq's interim prime minister, Ayad
Allawi, to help in a public relations blitz at the United Nations and in

Allawi is sufficiently shrewd and sufficiently grateful to President Bush
for liberating Iraq to play the role with ease. And only the most embittered
Bush critic can wish Iraq not to make progress under Allawi -- or fail to
recognize and honor the continuing sacrifices that American troops and Iraqi
citizens make daily to promote tolerance and freedom in the Middle East.

But putting Allawi on a pedestal -- especially if it is to burnish a
political campaign -- underlines the dangers of basing policy on image and a
war strategy on any one individual. The administration rushes past the
dubious history of U.S. involvement with Third World "strongmen" eager to
praise benefactors and crush opponents. Graveyards in African or Asian
jungles, as well as on the French Riviera, are filled with allies deemed
indispensable by past U.S. presidents.

More significantly, the administration papers over widening inconsistencies
in Allawi's approach to his country's main population groups and to the rule
of law in Iraq. With U.S. acquiescence, he ignores the Transitional
Administrative Law when that interim constitution is inconvenient for his
purposes. His vaguely defined role in ordering U.S. troops into battle in
the new "pol-mil" plan that is being pursued in Baghdad also causes

"Pol-mil" is shorthand for "political-military," the name of an influential
bureau in the State Department and of a doctrine for using carefully
calculated military force to produce favorable political change. "Winning
hearts and minds" is a well-known feature of this counterinsurgency.

U.S. officials point to the sieges of Fallujah and Najaf as examples of
Allawi's successful pursuit of a sophisticated pol-mil approach that has
been developed in recent weeks under U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte. In
reality, these flawed exercises in applying coercive power in variegated
fashion may contribute over time to nation-splitting rather than to

In Fallujah, Allawi periodically calls in airstrikes by U.S. warplanes to
pound concentrations of "foreign jihadists," but he withholds force against
the Baathist diehards who control much of that city and other municipalities
in the Sunni heartland.

His "hearts and minds" approach toward Sunni Baathists stands in unexplained
contrast to his determination to destroy at any cost the Shiite rebel forces
of Moqtada Sadr in Najaf last month. Far from using force to help bring
about the compromise arranged at the last moment by Grand Ayatollah Ali
Sistani, Allawi actively intervened to try to prevent that outcome.

He asked U.S. authorities to discourage or even block Sistani from rushing
back from a London sickbed to Najaf via Kuwait and Basra, according to a
U.S. official involved in fielding Allawi's secret request. When his plea
failed, Allawi dispatched two aides to try to talk Sistani out of returning
to reclaim peacefully a holy shrine that Sadr had occupied. Sistani
persisted, and both Sadr and the shrine survived.

Allawi's determination to risk making Sadr a martyr split his government and
led his national security adviser, Mowaffak Rubaie, to quit and leave the
country. The prime minister, who was groomed for his role by the CIA, is
also encountering growing suspicion from Iraq's Kurdish minority, which sees
its political rights and share in national revenue being progressively
watered down.

An official rosy glow will surround Allawi on his rounds this week. But even
the CIA does not see things that way -- privately. A national intelligence
estimate disclosed by the New York Times the other day paints a gloomy
picture of the separatist trends in Iraq. Could the agency be running a
supply-side intelligence operation, in which covert operators bring their
client to power to provide shambles for analysts to decry? Those in Congress
studying intelligence reform may want to inquire.

Allawi's U.S. trip should not be treated as a victory lap. He needs to hear
probing questions -- from both presidential candidates. And they need to
hear a greater commitment to democracy and the rule of law than he has
demonstrated thus far. Only that kind of trip can illuminate the path ahead
in Iraq.


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