Exile With Ties to C.I.A. Is Named Premier of Iraq
Wext: Saturday, 29.May. @ 00:00:00 CEST
By DEXTER FILKINS
Source: New York Times
BAGHDAD, Iraq, May 28 — Iyad Alawi, an Iraqi neurologist known for his close ties to the Central Intelligence Agency, was chosen Friday to be the country's interim prime minister when the Americans transfer sovereignty here on June 30.
Dr. Alawi, a secular-minded Shiite leader, was a compromise candidate endorsed by Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations special envoy, after days of intense negotiations involving Iraqi leaders and American officials.
Dr. Alawi, the scion of a prominent Iraqi family, is a member of the Iraqi Governing Council and played a central role in the decade-long, American-backed effort to topple Saddam Hussein.
His selection came after Mr. Brahimi tried to appoint a more apolitical technocrat, Dr. Hussain al-Shahristani, to the job, a course that sparked intense opposition from the nation's largest political parties.
Known for his secretive style and high-level political contacts, Dr. Alawi was until late this week regarded as an unlikely choice to lead the country's interim government. As an exile, a member of the American-appointed Iraqi Governing Council and a longstanding recipient of C.I.A. financing, Dr. Alawi is likely to face sharp challenges to his credibility among the Iraqi people.
Mr. Brahimi confirmed his choice following the unanimous approval of the Iraqi Governing Council at a meeting on Friday afternoon. A senior American official in Baghdad said the Bush Administration supported the choice. Mr. Brahimi said he would name the rest of the interim Iraqi government, including a president, in the next few days.
The selection of Dr. Alawi startled some Iraqi leaders and officials at the United Nations, who only days before believed Mr. Brahimi had settled on Dr. Shahristani, a former Iraqi nuclear scientist, to lead the new government. Mr. Brahimi's acceptance of Dr. Alawi came after Dr. Shahristani ran into stiff opposition from the Iraqi Governing Council, some of whose members represent the country's most powerful political parties.
The selection came together so quickly that United Nations officials in New York, as well as Mr. Brahimi's own aides, were caught off guard. "This is not the way we expected this to happen, no," said Fred Eckhard, the spokesman for Secretary General Kofi Annan. "But the Iraqis seem to agree on this name, and if they do, Mr. Brahimi is ready to work with him."
Mr. Annan "respects" the decision, Mr. Eckhard said.
Dr. Alawi is the leader of the Iraqi National Accord, an umbrella organization he set up in 1991 with the help of the United States government. A former member of the Baath Party, Dr. Alawi broke with Mr. Hussein and fled the country for London in 1971, where he lived for most of the time until Mr. Hussein's fall.
In the 1990's until now, Dr. Alawi, backed by the C.I.A., was the soft-spoken foil to Ahmad Chalabi, the flamboyant exile to whom he is related through marriage. Mr. Chalabi, backed by the Pentagon, funneled what appears to have been erroneous intelligence to the United States government that helped persuade the Bush Administration to invade Iraq last year.
Dr. Alawi and Mr. Chalabi share an intense personal rivalry and dislike for each other, friends and colleagues say. The two broke in 1996, when Dr. Alawi's group led a coup against Mr. Hussein that failed. Mr. Chalabi contended that the plot had been compromised by Mr. Hussein's agents.
In an interview, Mr. Brahimi declined to discuss in detail his selection of Dr. Alawi, but suggested that his choice was the best possible compromise in a difficult political environment. "I don't want to go back saying who is good and who is bad," Mr. Brahimi said. "I am sure that people know what is happening, although they are divided and they want different things, no one is going to get 100 percent of what they want."
Mr. Brahimi, a former Algerian foreign minister who was asked by the Iraqis and the Bush administration to help form an interim government here, had said he planned to look across a broad spectrum of Iraqi society in his search for the candidates to run the new government before national elections aimed for the end of this year. Earlier this week, Mr. Brahimi seemed to settle on Dr. Shahristani. But according to several Iraqi officials, Dr. Shahristani withdrew his name when he ran into stiff opposition from political leaders of the country's powerful Shiite parties.
"Some of the parties have been wanting this post for themselves and they did not feel that a nonpartisan would be the best candidate," said an Iraqi close to the negotiations between Dr. Shahristani and Mr. Brahimi. "Without their full support, the political process would not proceed as smoothly."
With that, Dr. Alawi, one of those Shiite leaders, emerged as a compromise choice between Iraq's two largest Shiite political parties, the Dawa Party and the Supreme Council for Revolution in Iraq. Iraqi officials said each party was pressing Mr. Brahimi to choose its candidate, but neither would support the other's candidate. They reluctantly agreed to support Dr. Alawi, Iraqis said. "Dawa and Sciri canceled each other out, and Alawi became the choice," said Mahmood Othman, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council.
In the discussions leading up to his selection of Dr. Alawi, Mr. Brahimi touched off fears among some of the country's Shiite leaders that he was trying to install a weak leader, with no political base, to make it easier for the Americans and the United Nations to control the nation. Some of those frustrations were still evident Friday.
"There is no real justice in this," said Adnan Ali, a senior leader of the Dawa Party. "We will support it and wait for the elections. But this decision was made without looking at the polls or at public opinion."
A senior American official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Dr. Alawi had campaigned furiously for the job, traversing the country to lock up the support of tribal and religious leaders. The American official said Dr. Alawi emerged as a top candidate in meetings with Mr. Brahimi and three Iraqis on the governing council who "market tested" the various contenders for the job.
Iraqi council members said the council unanimously endorsed Dr. Alawi. L. Paul Bremer III, the chief American administrator here, then entered the room to congratulate Dr. Alawi, followed by Mr. Brahimi.
The American official said that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country's most powerful Shiite leader, had communicated his approval of Dr. Alawi to the United States government through intermediaries. Ayatollah Sistani's support is crucial; he has said repeatedly that the Iraqi government that takes over the country on June 30 should act as a caretaker only — passing few laws and signing no treaties — until elections are held early next year.
The American official played down the American role in the sinking of Dr. Shahristani and the ascension of Dr. Alawi. But he said he and other American officials were pleased with the appointment of Dr. Alawi, who made no public appearances on Friday and issued no public remarks.
In a sense, the choice of Dr. Alawi represented the triumph of politics over the notion that Iraq could or should be ruled by a group of apolitical technocrats until democratic elections can be held. "This needs a politican, not a technocrat," said Mr. Ali, the Dawa Party leader. "A technocrat would feel differently about passing something; he wouldn't have the support of the people."
On the streets, the appointment of Dr. Alawi prompted mixed reactions, with many Iraqis reflecting, for good and ill, on his previous association with Mr. Hussein's government. "As he was a member of the Baath Party, I would say he has a good knowledge of how to run this country," said Hassan Faleh, a 35-year-old laborer. "The present situation in this country is not easy; we shouldn't prejudge him."