Saturday, April 29, 2006

Even When We Win, We Lose

If you take the shuttle between praktike and Swopa on the Nibras Kazimi line, a fuller picture of the Ayad Allawi intrigue begins to emerge. Zal Khalilzad's flirtation with trying to shoe-horn Allawi into the prime minister's seat - through some, er, less than democratic means - was the subject of previous speculation here. Kazimi provides one possible version of events surrounding this subterfuge [emphasis mine throughout]:

The election results presented a dilemma to the Bush administration: a Shia victory at the polls can never be allowed to turn into a victory for Iran's widening interests in the Middle East. The other goal was to prevent the Sadrists - enemies of America who have done battle twice against the democratic Iraqi state - from becoming de facto kingmakers due to their large showing in parliament. This was the right strategy, but somewhere down the line, America lost sight of its objectives and got lost in a silly game of pride and personalized politics. The electoral victors were all long time assets of the Iranians regime, and at their head was Mr. Hakim, a man Mr. Khalilzad communicates with in Farsi, the language of Iran and its derivative form that of Afghanistan.

American diplomats and spies on the ground in Baghdad had been keeping their fingers crossed for the return of Ayad Allawi, the ex-prime minister appointed by the Americans when sovereignty was handed back to the Iraqis. However, Mr. Allawi failed to deliver at the polls, and the first instinct was to contravene the numbers and bring him back to the top. To do that, Mr. Khalilzad put forward a plan to split the winning Shia block by promising American support to several hopefuls for the prime minister's job. The natural contender was Ibrahim Jaafari, the current prime minister who hoped to continue his mandate into a four year term. Another was American favorite and acolyte of Mr. Hakim's, Adel Abdel-Mahdi, and a third was the chairman of the Fadhila party, Nadim Al-Jabiri. Mr. Jabiri was the most ambitious and least talented of the lot, and thus, the easiest to dupe.

On January 20, a meeting was set up between Khalilzad, Allawi and Jabiri. According to sources privy to the discussions, Mr. Jabiri was promised the prime minister's slot if he could tear away his Fadhila Party faction and join the Kurds, the Sunnis, and Mr. Allawi's block. Mr. Allawi would later tell his lieutenants that the plan involved breaking off Fadhila and then forcing Mr. Jabiri - freshly out of friends - to deliver his votes to Mr. Allawi's bid for the top job.

This was a fine intrigue had it been employed anywhere else, but events are unfolding in Iraq that no amount of planning can keep up with...

But that's not to say that Zal's maneuvers were wholly without results. Kazimi in a subsequent post:

At this time, a wild rumor circulated among the top echelons of the UIA block that had Khalilzad warning of an American-backed military coup should Jaafari not relinquish his candidacy. But this unfounded rumor had an effect, and the morale of the Jaafari camp was squashed, leading the top man to back down.

In my prior post, I speculated that Zal's pushing of the Allawi line would be met with a rallying of support in a reinvigorated UIA bloc in defense of Jaafari. But I was wrong. Instead, it appears that Jaafari may have been sacrificed by the Shiites to head off the potential for an Allawi power grab.

That was a victory for Zal, right? Sort of. The problem is, "events are unfolding in Iraq that no amount of planning can keep up with":

The Americans were still doing due diligence on Al-Adib when it transpired that the UIA top brass had decided that he simply could not be the candidate - he was ethnically Persian and had only gotten his Iraqi citizenship papers done very recently. Picking Adib would have given credibility to accusations made by Arab leaders such as Egypt's Hosni Mubarak that the Shias owe allegiance to Iran, historically known as Persia.

Khalilzad and O'Sullivan kept their fingers crossed that other more palatable names would be put forth by the UIA, but they must have been surprised as much as anyone when the choice landed on Maliki. The key question that official Washington should be asking is this: did the Khalilzad-O'Sullivan duo advise President Bush that Washington's policy of hobbling Jaafari's candidacy would lead to the unfortunate situation of Maliki as prime minister?

Those American diplomats and strategic advisors can put a brave face on things and give Maliki the benefit of the doubt - as he is owed. However, there are many points against him from those in the know. He can be petty and quarrelsome, and forcefulness does not translate well into good managerial skills where the out-sized egos of Iraqi politicians are concerned: as deputy head of the De-Ba'athification Commission, Maliki initially expended his efforts to stymie the efforts of political foes such his party's rivals, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution, in divvying up the job positions, budget and office space assigned to the commission. It later fell to Maliki to hire a general director of the commission's legal department, and since he had not built up a dedicated staff of his own over the years - a situation that still stands today - he quickly picked a candidate who it later transpired had a criminal record for fraud. To compound matters, Maliki refused to fire him even when confronted with the legal evidence and kept him at the job.

More skeletons will emerge from the convoluted alleyways of the Shia-dominated Al-Amin quarter of Old Damascus, where Maliki lived for many years and worked as a Da'awa Party official. There will be persistent allegations about his mysterious relationship with Major-General Mohammad Nassif of Syrian intelligence, better known as "Abu Wael," who has been recently promoted to Syria's tight decision-making team, and who generally handles the files that have to do with Iraq's Shia, Iran, and Hezbollah.

So we succeeded in bringing down Jaafari only to get Maliki instead. One choice, Adib, was practically an Iranian, so he was swapped for a politician with uncomfortably close ties to Syria. It's getting easier to understand the motivation behind the Allawi-coup daydreaming.

In Iraq, even when we win, we lose.

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