IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Iraq's interim prime minister toughens image

Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, grappling with the violence blighting Iraq, lived up to his tough image on Sunday by declaring martial law.
Iraq's Prime Minister Iyad Allawi speaks to reporters in the capital Baghdad
Iraq's Prime Minister Iyad Allawi speaks to reporters in Baghdad Sunday to announce martial law. Thaier Al-sudani / Reuters
/ Source: Reuters

Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, grappling with the violence blighting Iraq, lived up to his tough image on Sunday by declaring martial law.

Barely more than four months after he took over from Iraq's U.S.-British occupiers, Allawi's government announced a state of emergency for 60 days, but it was far from clear what impact this would have on a raging insurgency.

Marked for assassination by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Allawi has sworn to crush the foreign fighters and die-hard Baathists he says are operating from the rebel Sunni Muslim cities of Fallujah and Ramadi.

He has said the window for a peaceful solution in Fallujah is closing. U.S. Marines poised on the edge of the city say they are only awaiting his orders to smash their way in.

Facing distrust
A secular Shiite who opposed Saddam Hussein from exile, Allawi was named prime minister on May 28, though he was not seen as the first choice of the U.N. envoy who was helping U.S. and Iraqi officials pick the interim government.

Allawi still has to convince many Iraqis that his government is no mere tool of the Americans.

The 58-year-old politician has no significant following in Iraq, where until recently few people had heard of him after his decades in exile, mostly in Britain and Jordan.

Some Iraqis distrust him as a returned exile who has not denied his links to U.S. and British intelligence. Others are wary of his past ties to Saddam's Baath Party and former army officers, though some see these as useful credentials.

Many initially appeared willing to give him a chance to show what he could do against Sunni insurgents, foreign militants and criminals who have defied U.S. military might.

But the last four months have seen surging violence that has particularly targeted fledgling Iraqi security forces, which Allawi has tried to build up as an eventual replacement for the 160,000 U.S.-led troops still in Iraq.

Impatient with Fallujah
Allawi has tried to convince the Sunni minority, privileged under Saddam, that it has a place in the new Iraq alongside majority Shiites eager for power and minority Kurds determined to hang on to their hard-won autonomy in the north.

But he has clearly lost patience with Fallujah, telling its people they must surrender Zarqawi's group or face attack.

He has described as mistaken the U.S. decision in May 2003 to dissolve Iraq's armed forces, which scattered after their defeat in the U.S.-led invasion launched two months earlier.

Allawi wants former officers not directly tainted by the cruelties of Saddam's rule to join the new army and help fight the guerrillas who now denounce Iraq's nascent security forces as "apostate" collaborators with the Americans.

The government also appears open to allowing radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr into mainstream politics.

Allawi, backed by the United States and Britain, is determined to hold national assembly elections on time in January, a policy also supported by majority Shiites.

But any offensive in Fallujah could fuel the grievances of Sunnis and possibly prompt them to boycott the elections, robbing them of much of their legitimacy.

Allawi may still try to woo moderate Sunnis into taking part in the polls, but he also faces deadly Sunni militant groups, such as al-Zarqawi's Al-Qaida Organization of Holy War in Iraq, which have sworn to kill him, root out foreign influence and restore an Islamic caliphate in Iraq.

Allawi left Iraq in 1971 to pursue medical studies and turned against the Baath party. He survived an axe attack by agents sent by a vengeful Saddam to his London home in 1978.

Backed by Britain's MI6 and the CIA, he formed the Iraqi National Accord, composed of ex-Baathists and disaffected officers, which staged a failed coup against Saddam in 1996.