As we all await the Petraeus Report on the state of the surge, we may also need to be anticipating the Allawi Coup. I'm talking, of course about Ayad Allawi, longtime C.I.A. asset and former interim prime minister of Iraq. He's making quite the PR push to get his old job back, penning an op-ed for the Washington Post, hooking up with Wolf Blitzer on Late Edition on Sunday, and even putting the high-powered GOP lobbying firm Barbour Griffith & Rogers on a $300,000 retainer.
It says everything you need to know about who the true power holders in Iraq are that Allawi, who has a "six-point plan" for Iraq that involves replacing the current Prime Minister, is campaigning in Washington -- not Baghdad. He clearly knows that despite Bush's bathetic paeans to Iraqi sovereignty, the real deciders in Iraq are not the Iraqi people, but a few dozen folks in the White House and the Pentagon. They are Allawi's true constituency.
So where does the White House stand on the idea of Allawi replacing current embattled prime minister Nouri al-Maliki? Well, it depends on whether you think Mitch McConnell was freelancing on Fox News Sunday when he jumped on the bash-Maliki bandwagon, calling the Maliki-led Iraqi government "pretty much a disaster" -- or whether you think he was performing his familiar function as White House water carrier.
Could the White House be seeing in the blame-Maliki-for-the-disaster-in-Iraq meme an opportunity replace the sputtering "give the surge a chance" plan with a "give Allawi a chance" plan?
Let's go to the Blitzer-Allawi interview to see what such a move would mean for the White House.
For starters, Allawi told Blitzer that his "six points call for a full partnership with the United States" and that his "objective is to develop a plan to save Iraq and to save American lives, as well as, of course, Iraqi lives, and to save the American mission in Iraq." Full Partnership? Save the American mission? Surely, music to the White House's ears. And it was good of him to toss in those Iraqi lives -- of course.
So what would an Allawi takeover mean in terms of U.S. troops remaining in Iraq? "If we talk around the region of two to two-and-a-half years," Allawi told Blitzer, "I think we are in the right direction." Who needs Petraeus buying the administration another few months with his report when the Allawi coup can buy them another two-and-a-half years?
And the White House doesn't have to worry about Allawi knowing his lines -- he's already memorized the playbook. When Blitzer asked him when the United States might be able to start reducing our presence in Iraq, Allawi responded with a Bush classic: "As soon as the Iraqi forces are able to stand on their feet and provide security for the Iraqis I think the draw-down should start." Ah: When they stand up, we can stand down! Misty water-colored memories. Being away from Iraq so much, I guess Allawi missed all those reports about the repeated failure of Iraqi forces to "stand on their feet."
So exactly how would an Allawi-for-Maliki switch occur? Allawi says he wants to proceed by "democratic means." But after being appointed interim prime minister by the U.S.-led coalition in June of 2004, Allawi had six months to campaign before the January 2005 legislative elections. He came in third with 14% of the vote.
When Blitzer asked Allawi who is paying for the $300,000 Barbour Griffith & Rogers lobbying contract, Allawi wouldn't say. He was only willing to disclose that the "payment is made by an Iraqi person who was a supporter of us, of the INA, of myself, of our program, and he has supported this wholeheartedly, without any strings attached."
As Spencer Ackerman of TPMmuckracker wrote, perhaps it's being financed by Allawi's old buddy Hazem Shaalan, who Allawi appointed as his defense minister. Shaalan is currently fighting charges that he stole $1 billion from the Iraqi defense budget (out of a total of $1.3 billion). That's some way to endear yourself to the Iraqi people.
Allawi and Shaalan are also closely tied to the Iraqi National Intelligence Service, which is funded and controlled by the C.I.A. and which has been a persistent thorn in relations between the U.S. and Maliki.
Meanwhile, we'll have to see whether Barbour Griffith & Rogers' lobbying will be as effective with administration officials as it has been with Washington's media gatekeepers. Last week, Bush issued a tepid defense of Maliki, saying he is "a good guy, a good man with a difficult job, and I support him." Hmm, didn't he say the same thing about Alberto Gonzales? And Don Rumsfeld?
While I was working on this post, I got a call from John Cusack, who had watched Blitzer's interview with Allawi from Berlin, where he is making a movie. He was stunned by Blitzer's remark to Allawi, after he had read him Maliki's quote about Iraq being able to "find friends elsewhere": "Those words," Blitzer said, "were seen here in Washington as pretty biting, given the enormous amount of support the United States has provided Iraq over these years."
"Can you imagine?" Cusack told me. "We invade their country, an invasion that has resulted in over 100,000 -- and maybe as many as 650,000 -- Iraqi civilians dead; 2 million Iraqis having fled the country, with 1.14 million displaced from their homes within Iraq; and tens of thousands of Iraqis detained -- with many of them tortured. After that 'enormous amount of support,' Iraqis have the temerity to complain?"
Talk about ingratitude. I bet Allawi would never bite the hand that feeds -- and bombs -- him.