Our man in Baghdad


Mark Follman
January 19, 2005 9:20PM (UTC)

The latest issue of the New Yorker has its fair share of big news; in addition to Sy Hersh's report on secret U.S. operations auguring military action against Iran, Jon Lee Anderson reports that an American official has confirmed that Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi summarily executed several suspected insurgents at a Baghdad police station last year.

Lest we forget, Allawi was the CIA's handpicked man for the job after the fall of Saddam, the one who would ostensibly set the stage for this year's transition to a democratic government. Since taking the job, Allawi has stood side by side with President Bush in Washington and espoused Iraq's bright future of freedom, humanity and democratic rule. Bush spoke with Allawi by phone as recently as yesterday regarding security issues and the ambitious goals of the Jan. 30 elections.

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The American official's confirmation of the killings by Allawi, according to Anderson, came via a "well-known former government minister" from Jordan; if it's reliable information it's pretty damn ugly for what it says about our man for democracy in Baghdad. From the New Yorker:

"There have been persistent rumors that, a week or so before he took office, Allawi shot and killed several terrorist suspects being held prisoner at a Baghdad police station. When reporters asked him about the rumors, Allawi denied that he had shot anyone, but added that he would do 'everything necessary' to protect Iraqis. I was in Baghdad at the time; although most Iraqis I spoke to believed the rumors, journalists and diplomats speculated that Allawi had spread them himself, in order to bolster his stern reputation.

"In late June, however, I sat in on an interview, conducted by Paul McGeough, a reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald, of a man who claimed to have witnessed the executions. He described how Allawi had been taken to seven suspects, who were made to stand against a wall in a courtyard of the police station, their faces covered. After being told of their alleged crimes by a police official, Allawi had asked for a pistol, and then shot each prisoner in the head. Afterward, the witness said, Allawi had declared to those present, 'This is how we must deal with the terrorists.' The witness said that he approved of Allawis act, adding that, in any case, the terrorists were better off dead, for they had been tortured for days.

"In the ensuing months, the story has lingered, never having been either fully confirmed or convincingly denied. (Allawi did not address the incident with me.) During my visit to Jordan [in late Dec.], a well-known former government minister told me that an American official had confirmed that the killings took place, saying to him, 'What a mess were in -- we got rid of one son of a bitch only to get another.'"

Some have argued that for the foreseeable future a volatile Iraq needs a thug -- a "Saddam-lite" -- to strong-arm its broken society down the road to reform. A read of Anderson's long profile leaves little doubt that Allawi has done a fine job filling those boots.


Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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