Monday, July 19, 2004

Back to Normal 

A Newsweek profile of Iraq's new wannabe-dictator, Iyad Allawi, who now has a $282,000 price on his head. Note Newsweek's rather cavalier treatment of the allegations from SMH last week that Allawi has been taking a, shall we say, personal interest in his detainees:
Baghdad's streets are as mean as any in the world, and since Ayad Allawi took office, the stories people tell in them are even meaner. Soon after he became prime minister of the interim government last month, many Iraqis whisper, he ordered two suspected insurgents shot in front of him. Or, goes another account, he shot seven captive terrorists himself, one after another. Or he personally chopped off the hand of a suspect with an ax.

Did he? Officials in Washington say they've heard the amputation story but have no details. White House officials dismiss it as "urban legend." The Australian newspaper The Age reported last week that two anonymous witnesses saw Allawi shoot seven suspected insurgents as his American bodyguards looked on. Asked by NEWSWEEK if he had killed anyone since taking office, Allawi chuckled and said, "This is a big lie, this is not true, I deny it categorically, No. 1. No. 2, we will spare no effort to secure our people" . . . .

U.S. officials feel confident that Iraq's influential Shiite leader, Ayatollah Ali Sistani, will provide a brake on Allawi's ambitions. "He was so clear to us about his commitment to democracy," says a former U.S. Coalition official. "I don't think anybody thought he was going to be a strongman."

Allawi's aim is to show that's just what he is. He has flooded the streets with cops, many of them from the old regime. He's started a new General Security Directorate, otherwise known as the secret police. Every few days his troops attack neighborhoods where criminals have gathered, rounding up men by the hundreds, cracking heads and sometimes fighting running gun battles. Iraqi TV shows footage of exultant policemen firing their guns into the air as they leave the scene of a roundup. Magistrates have been put on 24-hour duty to handle the intake of prisoners—527 from one raid on July 12. "He's tough as nails on security," says the U.S. official. "Tougher than we are" . . . .

Saleh is a 32-year-old Baghdad taxi driver who, with his uncle, was dragged from his car by gun-toting kidnappers in broad daylight. He was released after a beating and a ransom payment of several thousand dollars. He blames the Americans for allowing such criminals to flourish. ''These days, when we want to scare the kids in my family, we tell them 'Democracy is coming to get you' or 'Freedom is coming to get you'," he says with a bitter smile. ''The kids don't know what it means, but they run away." Now Saleh puts his faith in the new sheriff in town. "Allawi is the only one who could fix the current situation," he says. "He's a brave man who has survived many assassination attempts. I trust only him." Most Iraqis seem to agree; 73 percent supported Allawi in a poll last month.

"The Iraqis are willing to trade their freedom for security—for now," says Ghassan al-Atiyyah, the executive director of the Iraq Foundation for Development and Democracy . . . .

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