Former Iraqi prime minister and current peace broker Iyad Allawi escaped an attempt on his life in Beirut at the end of the first week of July. It was staged when he was making good strides forward in the mediation process in which President George W. Bush has reposed high hopes for muting Iraq’s guerrilla war by bringing its leaders into government in Baghdad.
Allawi was in the Lebanese capital to talk Lebanese officials round into stopping or slowing down the outflow of guerrilla funds from Beirut to Syrian banks, whence messengers carry the money into Iraq. An estimated $30 to 50 million move east along this track every month.
The assassination site was to have been the Iraqi leader’s meeting with a group of Lebanese Shiite leaders, including the parliament speaker Amal leader Nabih Beri.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror and Beirut sources report that Allawi’s arrival in Lebanon was preceded a few days earlier by the entry of five Iraqi Shiites from Baghdad who reached Beirut through Syria. Armed with explosives, grenades and sidearms, they were instructed to get close enough to Allawi to kill him by mingling with Beri’s reception party.
That was the plan. However, it was aborted by Amal security agents who picked the hit team up before it reached the Beri reception.
Its members were interrogated ten days in Amal’s cells but, according to our sources never broke down or betrayed the plotters who hired them for their mission.
The various interested intelligence agencies were left guessing whether the failed assassins were a Shiite gang recruited by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi from the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr’s Mehdi Army militia.
Sadr has a heavy score to settle with Allawi. As prime minister, he, more than any other Iraq, helped the Americans crush 2004 Mehdi Army rebellion and defeat his militia in battles fought in Baghdad and Najef.
Progress in Allawi-Sunni talks brought Jaafari to Tehran
Another possible candidate would be any Iraqi faction who feels threatened by the prospect of Allawai’s lead role in peace negotiations with Sunni leaders becoming a springboard for his return to power. (See DEBKA-Net-Weekly 212 of July 1: US-Iraqi Insurgent Peace talks)
Our Baghdad sources add that neither the US military or Iraqi intelligence rules out the hypothesis that the hit team was sent on its mission by two organizations close to prime minister Ibrahim Jaafari:
Either his own Shiite Dawa party, or the Shiite Badr Organization commanded by Gen. Hadi al-Amri, the only military outfit controlled by Iraqi Shiites – except for the elite Wolves Commando Brigade.
The very fact that such suspicions are heard in the Iraqi capital is symptomatic of the animosities boiling up within the Iraqi Shiite leadership as a result of further progress made by Allawi, a secular Shiite himself, with Sunni Arab leaders.
In a prolonged effort to negotiate an end to Iraq’s cycle of bloodshed, Iyad Allawi has been negotiating with a mixed bag of Sunni Arab politicians, pro-Saddam Baathist ex-officials, guerrilla chiefs and tribal leaders since April 2004 – albeit between long intervals and with ups and downs.
His goal is to co-opt the Sunni minority’s leaders to the national political mainstream and so wean them away from their insurgency.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Amman reveal that the Allawi initiative has gained fresh momentum from the gathering force of three groups of high-powered backers.
Vice president Dick Cheney and secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld in Washington. Their support is translated into Pentagon funding for the peace broker’s logistical needs, his staff, transport and bodyguards. Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah of Jordan were joined this week by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, making this a high-profile trio of backers in the Middle East. In Iraq, Allawi has won over Shiite factions free of Iranian influence, as well as some Kurdish factions led by deputy prime minister Barham Saleh. Success will bring chiefs of the great Sunni tribes of Iraq onto the US-backed Allawi peace bandwagon.
Drop in insurgent attacks on Mosul
This high-flying peace vehicle is also gathering powerful enemies, ranging from prime minister Jaafari, a fellow Shiite, to al Qaeda. Both cast a frosty eye on Allawi’s most striking new breakthroughs:
1. He obtained from his Sunni-Baath negotiating partners a pledge – already honored – to bring about a substantial reduction in the level of terrorist attacks in Mosul. This northern Iraqi city, one of the worst-hit parts of Iraq, has seen a 70 drop in terrorist attacks. The Sunni leaders acted swiftly to prove to the Americans and the Egyptian, Jordanian and Saudi rulers that they were able to deliver the goods.
2. The Sunni leaders also promised to provide intelligence data on Zarqawi and his terror networks for Allawi to pass on to the Americans. Again they delivered. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence and counter terror sources report that some of the al Qaeda’ Iraqi wing’s networks have been broken up in the Baghdad region and the Jordanian terrorist’s top financier Saad Ali Abbas al-Janabi, also known as Abu Imad captured. (See HOT POINTS below )
3. An accord was reached for Allawi to run again for election in December at the head of a multi-sectarian list made up of Shiites and Sunni Muslims as well as Kurdish elements.
Members of the Allawi and Sunni factions will start collaborating at once in the committee drafting the new Iraqi constitution.
This deal prompted the murders of two Sunni panel members – and a third Sunni politician – by Zarqawi’s group in Baghdad Tuesday, July 19. Four members promptly suspended their membership for fear of sharing their colleagues’ fate. They have since been promised better security.
A state visit with nothing to discuss
Prime minister Jaafari reacted angrily to the strides made in the Allawi-Sunni negotiations. Last Thursday, July 14, he put in emotional calls to Tehran and two days later he and ten of his cabinet ministers were paying an unannounced state visit, the first by an Iraqi premier to Iran since the fall of Saddam Hussein. It was set up without a word to the Americans and in great haste. Jaafari was in a hurry to line up a Tehran-backed Iraqi Shiite front to stand against the Shiite-Sunni bloc Allawi was building with US and pan-Arab support.
The visit was clearly arranged for effect rather than practicalities. They two sides had little of substance to discuss. But they shared a wish to startle the Americans.
They therefore talked at length about cooperation in intelligence. This topic was clearly a non-starter since Iraqi agencies spend most of their time gathering data on… Iran’s clandestine and military activity in Iraq.
However, to keep up the show of serious bilateral talks, the Iranian intelligence minister Ali Yunesi issued a statement about 1,000 al Qaeda operatives captured in Iran from the end of 2001, of whom 800 were deported and 200 stayed in detention. The Iranians were even prepared to broach the ultra-sensitive subject of al Qaeda to prove to the world that the bilateral relations were truly in place.
Another topic, the Iraqi prime minister and Iranian officials discussed at length was the laying of a pipeline from southern Iraq’s Basra to the Iranian refinery town of Abadan in Khuzestan. This project is pie in the sky. Jaafari does not have the money for such a project and neither government wants any such pipeline.
But as we shall see, Jaafari’s historic trip to Iran did not go without a response.