Allawi Poised on Knife Edge of Deals with Insurgents

New interim Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi is working hard and talking fast in an effort to reach a limited accommodation between his government, army and newly-created General Security Directorate and the different insurgent factions. At best, his government will confirm its control for the moment of parts of Baghdad and some of the small towns in the country, leaving the rest of central, western and eastern regions of Iraq in insurgent hands. At worst, his effort will be spurned and leave his administration confined inside the Green Zone of Baghdad, sharing with the American command.
The stakes were thoroughly assessed Sunday, July 18, with Richard Armitage, the highest-ranking American visitor to Baghdad since the handover of sovereignty on June 28.
debkafile‘s intelligence sources note that today the Green Zone houses four key power centers: They are:
1. President Ghazi al-Yawar who draws his strength from the three-million strong Shammar tribal federations whose lands straddle Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Running through these lands are key corridors for foreign Arab fighters including al Qaeda to slip into Iraq and smuggle arms, explosives and funds to the guerrillas.
2. Prime minister Allawi is empowered by Washington and the US army. As a secular Shiite, he lacks props to support his rule from any Iraqi ethnic, tribal, religious or economic group.
3. Deputy prime minister Barham Salih, who filled the same post in Kurdistan, is in charge of national security and Allawi’s broker for secret contacts with Iraqi guerilla leaders – about which more later. More than any other interim minister, Salih’s authority rests on two bases of strength, the US army and Central Intelligence Agency – as a longtime unofficial Iraqi Kurdish representative in Washington, he gained American trust – and the Kurdish leaders Jalal Talabani and Massoud Barzani, the keys that grant him access to a large military force of 45,000-50,000 Kurdish militiamen.
4. US ambassador John Negroponte, the former UN envoy, has just stepped in to the shoes of the ex-US administrator Paul Bremer and is tasked with the delicate mission of forging American policy in this very large and complex country. He must also act as watchdog and guide to steer new Iraqi interim administration policies and make sure they do not stray too far from US goals.
The members of this quartet all share the same handicap of living and working inside the exclusive and heavily fortified Green Zone. One step outside its gates brings them into real danger because the anarchy and the guerrilla hazard current before June 28 are still acutely threatening.
What steps is the new prime minister pursuing to bring order to his country?
debkafile‘s intelligence and Iraqi sources report: Allawi is in the process of informal interchanges with rebel groups, guerrilla leaders and local militias across the country. The process is partly managed by Salih through Kurdish intelligence agencies under the command of Kosrat Rasul (the Kurdish intermediary who led American forces to Saddam Hussein’s hidey hole last December).
Their answers as relayed by the prime minister’s intermediaries open some doors.
A. Baathist guerrillas have instructed cell leaders to continue their insurrection but hold back from a death blow against the new government – which is why their planned mega-operation did not materialize on sovereignty day. Guerrilla leaders have come to accept that toppling the government could lead to the exit of US forces from the country and create a vacuum that would invite its oldest enemy, Iran, to step into the breach.
B. The same insurgent underground while keeping up its attacks on Iraqi and US targets is keeping a weather eye open for chances to forge local truces on the lines of the Fallujah ceasefire that ended the month-long US Marine siege by handing security over to former Baathist generals.
C. The insurgents would exploit such local truces to seize one Iraqi town after another, pushing the Americans aside and restoring Baathist dominance to most urban areas of Iraq. Government and American forces would keep control only of intercity regions and connecting routes. This carve-up would suit the insurgent movements because they do not have enough manpower to take over every inch of the country.
D. The Baath leadership is making a point of stressing to its fighting elements that the Allawi government in Baghdad is the target of a political, but certainly not a religious, war. This guideline makes it clear that the Baathists do not share the war objectives of al Qaeda and the foreign Arab fighters fighting alongside them.
E. The Baath have called off guerilla attacks in the Shiite regions of Iraq including Baghdad’s Sadr City hoping to bring back the Shiite Baath cadres who deserted after Saddam Hussein’s downfall.
These five rejoinders are taken by President Yawar, ambassador Negroponte and his principals in Washington as providing Allawi with enough political and military leeway to consolidate his government. The hazards are also clear; acceptance of the insurgents’ principles in toto would give them control of all Iraqi cities including the capital and leave the government cornered in the Green Zone – not all that different from the present situation.
Allawi has two remedies for this hazard, as revealed last week by DEBKA-Net-Weekly.
First, he has instituted among guerrilla units as well as ethnic and religious militias a crash recruiting drive to the New Iraq Army. Salih, his forward conscription agent, has already raised a contribution of 15,000 Kurdish militiamen guaranteed.
The former Baath leaders are expected to see the advantages of sending their men to join up: a regular wage and military training subsidized by the government in Baghdad and the Americans, but also a vehicle for planting deep penetration agents. Allawi sees the other side of the coin. He believes that once the former guerrillas get used to a regular pay packet above the civilian market scale with perks such as better food and medical treatment for their families, they will cast their lot in with the national army and turn their backs on the uncertain life of a guerrilla.
(This hypothesis was tried experimentally in Afghanistan last year with only partial success.)
Second,, Allawi offers them political-ideological bait for crossing the lines: He says, if you don’t attack me, I won’t attack you – a form of amnesty for past misdemeanors. He also argues that like them his government is committed to fighting foreign invaders, but insists that he is taking on foreign troops who pose a greater peril to Iraq than the American army, namely a Qaeda and its foreign Arab and Muslim accretions. He appeals to them to join the government in a concerted effort to ascertain that Iraq’s ultimate freedom from all the foreign forces present now. The Iraqi leader believes this argument will have the effect of reducing guerrilla assaults on coalition forces and drive a wedge between the different insurgent factions.
The Iraqi prime minister has not neglected the turbulent Shiite cleric, Moqtada Sadr, whose Medhi Army militia is in revolt. Sunday, July 18, he authorized the reopening of the Sadr newspaper, whose shutdown by the former US administrator Paul Bremer sparked a revolt through the Shiite regions south of Baghdad in early April. Sadr still retains control of Najef’s shrines.
Both the Alllawi government and the insurgents are in the early exploratory stages of their give-and-take and it is too soon to say where it will lead. Recent reports of a certain Iraqi guerilla group deciding to do away with Musab Zarqawi and claims alleging Allawi personally shot captured insurgents prior to the transfer of sovereignty are unsupported and most likely politically motivated.
This week, the Iraqi leader set off on a tour of Middle East capitals to persuade Arab leaders to provide funding or instructors and training facilities for the new Iraqi recruits. His best bet is Jordan which needs free or cheap oil badly enough to offer training facilities. Most Arab leaders will be extremely wary of admitting to their countries former Saddam troops in uniforms provided by Iyad Allawi.

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