Those in the US who consider the current president a dictator might want to consider how a real “strongman” operates. To do so, they need go no further than the “fragile” democracy installed in Iraq since the US invasion and take a good look at Ayad Allawi, slated to become the country’s next prime minister. With a pre-election resume that includes coordinating “hit squads” and allegedly shooting handcuffed prisoners, he makes Dick Cheney look like Gandhi.
When Allawi, head of the Iraqiya party, was declared ”’winner” of Iraq’s recent elections, narrowly defeating current prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, most major publications, particularly in the US, stressed his “secular” political orientation. Although Allawi is a Shiite, many Sunnis apparently voted for him because they feared that al-Maliki would favor the Shiites and be hostile to Baathists.
Since then, questions have been raised about his eligibility. At issue is a provision in the country’s current constitution, adopted in 2004. According to Article 77, the prime minister must have Iraqi parents. Allawi’s mother is apparently a Lebanese citizen. Some have even suggested that she is Syrian. Thus far, no major US publication has taken notice of the allegation.
But an even more shocking omission is Allawi’s long-standing reputation for brutality and murder in Iraq, where he’s known as “Saddam without the Mustache.” After he first became prime minister in 2004, The New York Times and Washington Post labeled him a ruthless strongman and Newsweek called him "Iraq’s New SOB."
Just a week before he took power from Coalition Provisional Authority head Paul Bremer, Allawi allegedly executed six prisoners – personally. The story, first published by the Sydney Morning Herald on July 17, 2004, included the details from two separately interviewed Iraqi witnesses. Both insisted that Allawi shot the handcuffed and blindfolded men in cold blood, in front of US military and Iraq police witnesses, while visiting the Al-Amariyah security center in Baghdad. Mother Jones revived the story this March.
Allawi was sending a message, he allegedly explained, and showing Iraq police how to "deal with" the opposition. When British Prime Minister Tony Blair was asked about it, he dismissed the allegation as "odd" and called Iraq’s new prime minister a "deeply humane person."
Despite the seriousness of the allegation, US newspapers and networks avoided covering the story. Eventually, Los Angeles Times reporter Alissa Rubin did develop a follow up. But her report, "Iraq rumors reflect debate over need for a strongman," classified the charge as one of several "urban myths" circulating about Iraq’s new leader.
The Herald story was solid, however. Thirty people apparently witnessed the event, including then-interior minister Falah al-Naqib. "The prisoners were against the wall, one of the witnesses told Herald reporter Paul McGeough, “and we were standing in the courtyard when the Interior Minister said that he would like to kill them all on the spot. Allawi said that they deserved worse than death—but then he pulled the pistol from his belt and started shooting them."
Before his 2004 election, while chairing of the Interim Governing Council’s security committee, Allawi allegedly recruited former torturers to serve in a new secret police apparatus. He also threatened martial law, discussed shutting down sections of the media, suggested the government might delay future elections, and moved to bring back the death penalty.
According to a July 11, 2004 New York Times feature by Dexter Filkins, Allawi cut off one prisoner’s hand to make him confess about "terrorist" activities. "Bring me an ax,” Filkins quoted him as saying. Though acknowledging Allawi’s brutal streak, the journalist felt that such shows for force demonstrated why he was "the perfect man" to bring this "fractious country" together.
According to a report in Counterpunch by Douglas Valentine, Allawi first did some killing for Saddam Hussein in the 1960s, but switched to the CIA after Hussein tried to kill him. He co-founded the Iraqi National Accord, an anti-Saddam group, in 1991. The Times called it “a terrorist organization.” Made up mostly of defectors from the military and intelligence services, the group received financial support from Britain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and, eventually, the CIA.
Seymour Hersh provided more details in a 2004 New Yorker profile. Former CIA officer Vincent Cannistraro told Hersh that Allawi was “a paid Mukhabarat agent for the Iraqis, and he was involved in dirty stuff." That stuff apparently included a "hit team" that sought out and killed Baath Party dissenters throughout Europe, according to a Middle East diplomat who spoke to the veteran journalist.
He may even have been involved in the bombing of schoolchildren. According to the Counterpunch report, Allawi’s group “used car bombs and other explosives devices smuggled into Baghdad from northern Iraq.” Robert Baer, a former CIA officer once based in the region, said that one bombing during that period “blew up a school bus; schoolchildren were killed.”
In the US, none of this – the CIA ties, a hit team, and possible cold-blooded execution of prisoners – is considered significant enough to deserve fresh coverage or investigation. But if Allawi survives the current challenge to his eligibility, it may well mark the return of Saddam-style government. Mission accomplished.
Greg Guma is an author, editor, and former CEO of the Pacifica Radio Network. His books include The People’s Republic: Vermont and the Sanders Revolution, Uneasy Empire: Repression, Globalization, and What We Can Do, and Passport to Freedom: A Guide for World Citizens. He writes about media and politics on his blog, Maverick Media (http://muckraker-gg.blogspot.com).