27 February 2020
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Is there hope for Iraq with Tawfiq Allawi?

Wednesday, 05 February 2020 14:16
Tawfiq Allawi Tawfiq Allawi

Iraq’s divided political parties have finally picked a consensus candidate — Tawfiq Allawi — to be the new prime minister. The nation has been in a political crisis since street protests forced the fall of the government of his predecessor, Adel Abdul Mahdi, and the nation’s parliament missed a constitutional deadline in picking a successor. 

That has deepened the governmental crisis. Mr. Allawi is a compromise candidate, but he is saying the right things. He has promised to clean up the corruption in government ministries by selecting competent replacements for the political hacks whose venal incompetence triggered the interestingly named Tuk-tuk Revolution — so called because much of the heart of the current mass demonstrations consists of low-paid Tuk-tuk cabbies. The demonstrators continue to occupy Tahrir Square and key sites in other major cities.

To date, the protesters have not accepted Mr. Allawi at his word. He has a number of strikes against him. First, his candidacy is endorsed by the radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al Sadr, who recently denounced the protesters and staged his own pro-Iranian rallies. He then suddenly appeared to change sides after the legitimate street protesters turned against him accusing him of being a pro-Iranian tool. To drown out the anti-Allawi protests, Mr. Sadr has dispatched some of his own paid demonstrators to Tahrir Square. Second, the protesters have taken the position that anyone who has served in a previous government is unacceptable as a prime minister; Mr. Allawi served as the minister of communications in the discredited cabinet of the failed former Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki.

My own personal opinion is that Mr. Allawi should be given a chance. He has a few things to recommend him. He resigned from the Maliki cabinet in protest of the sectarian anti-Sunni excesses that enabled the early success of the Islamic State (ISIS) when it was posing as a champion of Sunni rights. Mr. Maliki doesn’t like Mr. Allawi. Anyone who Mr. Maliki opposes must be doing something right. In addition, Mr. Allawi has promised to create real reform by appointing honest and competent ministers to clean up the swamp that is Iraqi governance; if that doesn’t happen, he says he’ll resign.

My experience with Iraqi politicians doesn’t lead me to be wildly optimistic. Most talk a good game, but don’t deliver during rough going. Sadly, many of those who have legitimately tried to clean things up are in jail on charges trumped up by corrupt Shiite elites such as Mr. Maliki. If Mr. Allawi really appears to be trying to make things better, he deserves American support. Actions speak louder than words.

The new prime minister’s first challenge will be addressing the demand by those in parliament who do the bidding of Iran for an American military withdrawal. He could gain credibility with the majority of Iraqis who resent Iranian influence if he requests that both U.S. and Iranian military personnel withdraw. Of course, the Iranians will refuse; but Mr. Allawi will have gained the trust of the protesters who resent all foreign influence. This would put the onus on the Iranians. 

It is the Iranians — not the Americans — who are the force manipulating Iraqi politics, and the majority of Iraqis of all confessions know it. We returned to Iraq to help stop ISIS. Unlike the Iranians, we have no vital interest in remaining in Iraq; we have enough air and ground power in the region to return quickly to deal with ISIS if it stages a resurgence. Iran, on the other hand, would suffer great embarrassment if its forces are asked to leave.

Without the support of Iranian Quds force advisers — who de facto lead the pro-Iranian militias that are suppressing the legitimate anti-Iranian, anti-government protests — the Quisling parliamentarians who serve Iran will be in a great deal of trouble indeed. By standing up to them, Mr. Allawi can become a true national leader. Failure to do so will represent business as usual. Either way, Mr. Allawi will have shown his true colors.

We may no longer have a vital national interest in Iraq, but we do bear some moral responsibility for the mess that it has become as we demanded a constitution on a short timeline in 2005. We wanted a government badly, and we got a bad government. But Iraq is now in Iraqi hands, or would be if not for the baleful influence of Iran. If Mr. Allawi succeeds, great; if he fails, Iraq may be on the way to civil war. If so, we don’t want to be around when that happens.

Source: The Washington Times

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