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Thursday, July 1, 2004 05:13 am

Born under a cloud of irony

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In the 1990s, Iyad Allawi’s political organization used car bombs to destabilize Saddam Hussein’s regime

The ironies are flowing thicker than crude oil in Iraq these days.

First, the United States surreptitiously turns over nominal control of the country to a government appointed by outsiders -- while leaving real power in the hands of U.S. military commanders -- and calls it an exercise in democracy.

And although the interim prime minister is a former member of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, who later conducted anti-Hussein terrorist operations on behalf of the CIA, his selection as leader of a "free Iraq" is being hailed by President Bush as a great victory in the war on terror.

According to several former intelligence officials interviewed by the New York Times this month, the CIA-financed political group run by interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi in the '90s "used car bombs and other explosive devices smuggled into Iraq" in an attempt to sabotage and destabilize Hussein's regime.

With such a record, it is perhaps not strange then that Allawi, who built his exile organization with defecting Iraqi military officers, is already proclaiming the need to delay elections scheduled for January and impose martial law. On Monday, Bush said coalition forces would support such a call for martial law.

Allawi also successfully demanded that Hussein be put under his government's control and that the former head of state be tried quickly by an Iraqi court rather than an international tribunal. The former dictator and 11 of his top lieutenants are scheduled to be brought to court today (Thursday, July 1) on war crimes-related charges.

When Allawi was first picked for the prime minister post through an opaque selection process ostensibly run by a United Nations representative, former CIA Iran-Iraq analyst Kenneth Pollack justified the agency's earlier use of Allawi as a terrorist with the comment "send a thief to catch a thief." But the question now is: Do you send a thief to build a democracy?

There has been little media follow-up to reports in early June that Allawi's work for the CIA amounted to much more than trying to win hearts and minds. Yet, what is known is damning enough. In 1996, one of Allawi's top officers and his group's self-proclaimed chief bomb maker detailed the mechanics behind Allawi's murderous actions in a videotape subsequently obtained by a British newspaper, the Independent. On the tape, he even expresses annoyance that the CIA had shortchanged him on one job, a car bombing, allegedly paying only half the agreed-upon amount.

Allawi's group, the Iraqi National Accord, was the only exile group the CIA trusted to unleash violence inside Iraq under the agency's direction, according to a New York Times source. In those days, car bombings in Baghdad were thought to be a good thing, according to one U.S. intelligence officer who worked with Allawi.

"No one had any problem with sabotage in Baghdad back then," he said. "I don't think anyone could have known how things could turn out today." Allawi now has made control over his old rival Hussein a loud demand of his appointed government, which sits in uneasy reliance on 135,000 U.S. troops and must answer to the world's largest American embassy in all important matters.

Such a plan must be tempting for the U.S. A show trial under Allawi would be designed to get Hussein out of the way as quickly and quietly as possible, which might save the U.S. some embarrassment.

After all, in an open, unbiased trial the old dictator, if he still has his wits about him, could talk about his cooperation with the Reagan and Bush administrations during the '80s, when he committed many of the alleged crimes -- including the use of poison gas -- for which he will be brought to trial. He might even discuss his two visits back then with U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld.

This story was distributed by AlterNet, the news service of the alternative press.

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