Iyad Allawi, Iraq’s former interim prime minister and a current contender for the position, has been a prominent figure in most of the turning points in Iraq’s recent political history. Although his position as interim prime minster earned this secular Shia the stamp of American puppet, Allawi has managed to secure a political comeback in the recent elections.
The British-trained neurosurgeon has once again found himself in the limelight after his alliance, Iraqiya, won a narrow victory in the March parliamentary elections, with 91 seats over the 89 held by his challenger, Nouri Al-Maliki. Although Maliki still has a chance to retain his position as prime minister, Allawi’s expertise in political maneuvering will serve him well if he’s given the opportunity to create a coalition government of his own.
While very little appears to be certain in Iraq’s future political leadership—with neither contender having the 163 seats necessary for a leading majority—what is certain is that Allawi has learned from the past. After having watched Iraq plunge into sectarian violence, he has made sure that his bloc bridged the sectarian divisions that creep up every so often.
In promising that Iraqiya “will open its heart to all political forces and all those who want to build Iraq,” he managed to draw Tariq Al-Hashimi, the Sunni vice president, and Saleh Al-Mutlaq, also a Sunni, who was barred from the March elections. As a result, Allawi brought to the polls many Sunnis who had boycotted the last election, adding credibility to the development of Iraq’s burgeoning democratic system. In addition to his success in Sunni-dominated areas, he also performed strongly in Kirkuk, an area contested by Arabs and Kurds.
However, not all see Allawi as the solution to sectarian division, nor as the ideal leader of the country. Many Shiites have interpreted Sunni-support of the politician as a “disguised support for the old government,” reported The New York Times.
Mr. Allawi has also faced criticism for his leadership as the interim prime minster of Iraq. Although he had been chosen for his strong credentials as an opposition to Saddam Hussein by the US, he was deeply resented by Iraqis for having lived in exile and for the strong hand he used to fight insecurity while in power.
Before his appointment as prime minster, he had been in charge of reforming the army, police and intelligence services. Although he opposed the purging of former Baath Party members from government positions, he was considered a hardliner when it came to security, a fact which earned him the nickname “Saddam without a mustache.”
Among his controversial decisions was his support for the US offensive in Fallujah and Najaf against Muqtada Al-Sadr’s Mahdi army. There were also rumors that he summarily executed two suspected insurgents in 2004. These controversies, in addition to the failure of his government to undermine sectarian violence, did little for him in the 2005 parliamentary elections. His secular Iraqi National List alliance came in third to the Shia United Iraqi Alliance.
From the beginning, Allawi’s life seems to have turned around the event’s shaping Iraq. He was born into a prominent merchant family with a political legacy. His grandfather had helped negotiate Iraq's independence from Britain, and his father was a member of parliament. He too would soon become involved in politics by joining the Youth branch of the now banned Baath Party, and organizing against the government of Abdul Karim Qassim.
Allawi’s ties to the Baath Party, however, were severed early on. Due to his differences with the politics of the party, and in order to continue his medical education, he moved to London in 1971. He eventually resigned from the Baath Party in 1975, causing him to fall greatly out of Saddam’s favor. After resisting Saddam’s pressure to re-join the party, he was told by friends that his name was on one of Hussein’s infamous purging lists.
Distance, it seemed, was not an obstacle that Saddam considered sufficient to deter him from killing his enemies. Allawi was severely injured in an assassination attempt while living in Kingston-upon-Thames in 1978. His would-be assassins attacked him in his bedroom with an axe, almost cutting of his right leg and inflicting a severed wound in his chest. Although his attackers left him for dead, he is said to have yelled, “You tell Saddam I am going to survive this, and I'll take your eyeballs out.”
And survive he did. Allawi spent almost a year in a hospital recovering from his injuries. With ample time to consider his options he decided to organize Baathists in exile, founding the Iraqi National Accord, an organization whose popularity would grow exponentially after the 1990 Kuwait invasion.
In 1996, with the backing of the CIA and MI6, the group tried to initiate a coup in Iraq by employing Baathist allies in the military and government. However the attempt failed when Saddam’s security agents infiltrated the network, causing the arrest and execution of many of the plotters.
Indeed, Allawi’s involvement in politics have made him no stranger to danger or controversy, leading many to speculate over how he will deal with the current electoral stalemate. Even under the current conditions, however, he has proved adept in managing challenges. Perhaps what Iraq needs to cure the long-lasting illness of sectarian division is to give this doctor a second chance.