canary in the coal mine

Why are we in Iraq? No, it's not the WMD, say supporters of the war, it's to build a democratic state to act as a beacon for American values in the world. I take this argument more seriously by far than the counter argument by the detractors of the war, whose only argument is oil and Haliburton.

But I've long suspected that high-rhetoric aside, the supposed democracy-promotion of the Administration has been a front for the good old "strongman" approach - yes, the same realpolitik of "he's our son-of-a-bitch" - and the selection of Iraqi Prime Minister Allawi certainly set off alarm bells on that score.

Well, the former Friend of Saddam has let show some of his true colors:

Iraqi Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi killed six suspected insurgents just days before he was handed power, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

The report cites two witnesses to the killing who say Allawi fatally shot the prisoners, who were handcuffed, blindfolded and lined up against a wall in a courtyard near the maximum-security facility at al-Amariyah security centre near Baghdad. They quoted Allawi as saying the men "deserved worse than death" because each had killed some 50 Iraqis.

The newspaper added the killings were seen by about a dozen Iraqi police and four Americans from Allawi's security team. Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib, another alleged witness, is said to have congratulated Allawi.

The Herald report in its Saturday editions said both Allawi's office and Naqib denied the report.

A longer article in the Sydney Morning Herald has a lot more background on Allawi, which puts things in more context:

The rationale offered by some is that if the Prime Minister spilt blood before their eyes, then the police would know they could kill with impunity. He would become a man to be feared and all too quickly the force would impose that fear on the community.

Then there are the Baghdad whispers, invisible but frightening weapons of mass intimidation, which Saddam himself used to powerful effect.

Spreading like wildfire, tales of his conduct and that of his murderous agencies set the rules by which people might survive. They were whispered from one person to the next, drawing lines within which most people might get on with their meagre lives - with a level of immediate personal security they can only dream of these days.

Once the Allawi whispers started a few weeks ago, there were signs that the image of the new strongman was already being cultivated. Allawi may have worked out that, to succeed, he too must go down the Saddam road, which, in any event, seems to be his natural inclination.

Saddam acted tough and he kept the lights on; Allawi has been talking tough, and now he is trying to act tough so that the same troubled Iraqi minds might fall in behind him.

A casual driver retained briefly by the Herald said he had picked up a version of the alleged police station killings in the swirl of fixers, translators and drivers in the lobby of the Palestine Hotel.

He was more impressed than he was shocked.

Elsewhere, a doctor claimed the killings were being discussed "all over town". He speculated: "Maybe Allawi wants to be seen like Saddam, because when Iraqis hear a rumour like this they presume it is based on fact."

The desire of the Iraqi people for a benevolent dictator is natural - they're a traumatized society and it will likely take two generations to recover from Saddam's tyranny. A whole generation of youth must grow up without the specter of Saddam's control, without the fear of summary judgement, disappearing and secret tribunals, dark places like Abu Ghraib held over their heads as a remonder of the futility of fighting the power of the State.

But if the due process of law is never established, or only paid lip service while the same dark underbelly of state power operates, silently and without accountability, then such an awakening of the true nature of freedom - and the societal empowerment and explosion of culture and economic success that it brings - will never occur.

Witness Egypt. So much progress, but still so achingly far. Was everything we sacrificed in Iraq, as Americans, worth it to simply replace Saddam with a Mubarak clone? The supposed champions of freedom should ask themselves hard questions on this. And reflect on just how divorced from reality the rhetoric has been, for a man such as Allawi - even if he didn't execute the accused insurgents - to be allowed to rule Iraq rather than govern it.

UPDATE: The journalist who broke the story, Paul McGeogh, is interviewed and defends the accuracy and credibility of his sources. Worth reading if you're skeptical that the event happenned, and also if you aren't.


Andrew said...

I agree. There would be something profoundly disturbing if we finished all of this unpleasantness with a slightly less nasty Ba'athist in charge. Given the way that Alawi managed to pull an end run around CPA officials and Brahmini to get himself put in charge in the first place, I'd say that the chances that we (by which I mean the U.S.) got played for chumps by all parties involved just keeps increasing. Which I guess goes to show what comes from putting too much faith in exiles.

Of course, speaking of those exiles, my thoughts on Chalabbi are that I should certainly hope that someone with a PhD in mathematics should be able to outsmart most parties involved.

Conrad said...

No, it's not the WMD, say supporters of the war, it's to build a democratic state to act as a beacon for American values in the world.

I think that this is might be a justification used but I can�t believe that it is taken seriously as an argument; in fact I think the exact reverse to your position. I agree that many of the arguments against the war are problematic and flawed but to say that they are less so than the one in favour of it that you just proferred up, seems to me amazingly mind-boggling unless one is using some other definitions of democracy. Apart from anything else given the general level of sentiments amongst most populations in the ME, why is there even an assumption that building a real democratic state will lead to some sort of beacon for �American values� the evidence from Asia is that wherever democratic states have taken root, the kinds of values being promoted are quite different.