Shaha Riza's Iraq travel plans

The Financial Times reports: Long before Wolfowitz headed over to the World Bank, he was wangling assignments for his girlfriend intimately connected to postwar Iraq policy.

Published May 17, 2007 4:16PM (EDT)

The Financial Times has published yet another fantastic article revealing new details about the relationship between Paul Wolfowitz and Shaha Riza. The most important point: Their partnership is inseparable from the politics of the Iraq war.

Eoin Callan writes:

At about noon on March 21 2003, the U.S. launched the first full-scale bombing of Iraq, ordering about 1,700 sorties and firing more than 500 cruise missiles.

Sometime during that day, amid the frenzied activity at the Pentagon, an e-mail was sent with an order originating in the office of Paul Wolfowitz, then deputy secretary of defense, to hire Shaha Riza, a World Bank employee...

Mr Wolfowitz acknowledges that by the start of the Iraq war he had a "close personal relationship" with Ms Riza, an outspoken advocate of women's rights and democracy in the Middle East.

Officials said that departmental records confirm Mr Wolfowitz showed a "personal interest" in the contract to send Ms Riza and three other consultants to Iraq to advise on postwar state-building.

E-mails sent by Pentagon staff at the time state there was "interest from Wolfowitz on down" and that the "E-ring" -- or outer ring of the Pentagon, where the leadership is located -- was "screaming" for immediate action on the contract.

The FT article convincingly portrays Wolfowitz's efforts to get Riza involved in Iraq as not simply an act of favoritism to a girlfriend, but as part of the couple's shared vision of promoting democracy in the Mideast via a combination of military force and radical, U.S.-imposed reforms. It further reinforces the understanding that the torturous wrangling over Shaha Riza's pay package is symbolic of a much larger struggle over the responsibility for and fallout from the cascade of debacles that has followed the launching of those bombs in 2003.

Callan writes that "As a secular Arab woman who supported U.S. policy in the Middle East she had a special appeal to the neo-conservatives ascendant in the Bush administration at the time. 'She was a star,' says an administration official. He described her as a fellow traveler in the 'whither Iraq project' that was coalescing around Mr Wolfowitz."

The answer to the question "whither Iraq" is being written in the deaths of thousands of American soldiers, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, the terrified emigration of millions of Iraq's best and brightest, and the crippling of the Republican Party. It's safe to say that Riza's star has fallen, along with Wolfowitz's.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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Globalization How The World Works Iraq Iraq War Middle East