On ABC-TV’s Lateline last week, Tony Jones conducted a fascinating interview with Ali Allawi, former Iraqi defence minister, and now senior adviser to the present Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
I say ‘fascinating’ not just because of Allawi’s informed and sober discussion of the calamity in Iraq, but because Allawi’s views often stand in stark contrast to Coalition of the Willing leaders such as George W Bush, and of course bit-players like Australian Prime Minister John Howard.
It’s illuminating to contrast Allawi’s observations here with the official line, whether from Washington or from our own poodle government here in Australia, from which there’s a grudging and generalised admission that “mistakes were made...” but little if any evidence of lessons learned from those mistakes.
Allawi excoriates both the Iraqi transitional government, of which he was a part, and the management by the occupying authorities of the occupation and transition. According to Allawi, if anything distinguishes these early days of the new Iraq, it is incompetence and corruption on an epic and tragic scale.
...For example, in 2004 2005 the entire procurement budget of the Ministry of Defence was stolen. I mean we’re talking about more than $US1 billion that simply vanished. It’s not a question of commissions or rake-off, but outright theft and you can duplicate this on a smaller scale in various ministries ... the scale of corruption was truly monumental. ...
Billions of dollars were spent ... on the military and on the police who have nothing to show for it. It is an overwhelming collapse in oversight... The whole thing was done not on a shoestring, it was done with huge resources, but nevertheless the outcome is really appalling.
Contrary to the insistence of Bush et al that the invasion of Iraq was integral to the ‘war on terror’, Allawi maintains that...
Saddam had terrible, terrible flaws and was a terrible tyrant. But one of the things he did not do was challenge the United States through terrorism, so the connection between the former regime and Al Qaeda and international terrorism directed against the United States particular and the West generally could not be established...
Allawi’s analysis has more than a little resonance with British High Commissioner Helen Liddell’s comments last week that “our raison d’etre for our involvement in Iraq has not been about terrorism.” This assertion was of course rejected outright by Prime Minister Howard, who responded with the well-worn mantra “that Iraq is part of the battleground against terrorism.” To which Allawi might respond:
What has happened is, in fact, a large number of so-called ... jihadist groups have been empowered as a result of the continuing large scale American military presence in Iraq. And in the process, the threat of terrorism has increased.
So, it appears that Allawi tends to the view — unspeakable among the Bushites and their poodles — that the presence in mass of US and other Coalition troops in Iraq is counterproductive. He is also at odds with the Bush view that a withdrawal of US troops would result in a catastrophic breakdown of civil order in Iraq.
... I don’t think there will be a serious effect on the overall level of violence. But the instability will continue.
Indeed, it is arguably a symptom of the wilful ignorance of the Coalition leadership that the current appalling level of violence in Iraq isn’t considered as already constituting a catastrophic breakdown of order.
On the question of the human cost of the Iraq war — specifically the number of Iraqi civilians killed since the 2003 invasion — Allawi believes that figure to be “around 200,000-250,000.” If Allawi’s present estimate is correct, and if President Bush was correct in December 2005 with his estimate of 30,000 “more or less”, then this suggests a monthly death toll of Iraqis of well over 10,000 per month in the last 18 months or so alone — “more or less”.
Allawi originally opposed a full-scale invasion of Iraq, but is now of the view that
... we’ve moved now beyond whether the overthrow of Saddam was a good or a bad thing and to what are we going to do ... with this Iraq that has gone through four years of terrible hardships? The consequences have to be addressed and managed.
Addressing and managing those consequences should indeed be the overriding priority, as opposed to shoring up US ‘prestige’ and certain parties’ re-election prospects.