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A Focus on Stability, Even at Great Cost

June 27, 2004|Alissa J. Rubin | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — The incoming interim prime minister of Iraq, Iyad Allawi, says simply that he will do what it takes to restore order. With him at the helm, the future in Iraq may have notable similarities to life under Saddam Hussein.

The heavyset former neurologist has talked about invoking martial law, which could mean authorizing detentions without warrants or time limits; curfews; and the suspension of elections, among other policies. The U.S. is trying to talk him out of such steps so that at its inception, at least, the new Iraqi government acknowledges the importance of human rights.

"He's a thug, but he's our thug," a senior U.S. diplomat said of Allawi, who has long-standing ties to the CIA.

In an interview two days before his name began to be leaked as the presumptive prime minister, Allawi made it clear that his first efforts would be to persuade the Iraqi army's officer corps to return to service and to undo the de-Baathification that he believes crippled the government and made it easier for the insurgents to win support.

"There were three kinds of people in the Baath Party. There were criminals, who were part of Saddam's circle. The second were those who really were Baathists and stood against the regime ... and the third, and the most large portion, are those who had to join because this became a way of life," Allawi said. "You couldn't get employment, you can't get into college if you didn't join."

Allawi is a former Baathist, one who believed in the party's secular, pan-Arab political philosophy but abandoned Hussein and joined the Iraqi opposition in the early 1970s. He later received CIA backing. So the purging of Baathists was a personal matter to him.

"Would they de-Baathify me? Would they say, 'You have been a member of the Baath Party,' although I have suffered a lot from Saddam? So this is what I mean -- there were no criteria for de-Baathification."

He wants to speed the rehiring of the former Iraqi army, and if deals must be made such as the one in Fallouja that allowed such rehiring, he will make them.

"I do think very strongly that this [force in Fallouja] would encourage us to adopt a policy of reconstituting parts of the army immediately," he said.

Although local militias could become a problem, he says there are few choices given the sorry state of Iraqi security forces. "If we had police security or the army, we wouldn't be doing these militias in various provinces," Allawi said.

He appears to be relishing his new power, attending ribbon cuttings and public events almost daily. Less clear is whether he will push for elections.

Last month he voiced doubts about whether the country would be stable enough. "I think it will be difficult to bring [the security situation] under control," he said.

During an interview in November, he talked for more than an hour, hardly taking a breath, about what needed to be done, including rehiring members of the Mukhabarat, Hussein's former secret police, as long as they had not committed crimes.

"We need an army, full stop. We need an intelligence service, full stop.... I fought all my life to come back to this country, and I need this country to be stable."

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