Exiled Allawi was responsible for 45-minute WMD claim

By Patrick Cockburn

29 May 2004


The choice of Iyad Allawi, closely linked to the CIA and formerly to MI6, as the Prime Minister of Iraq from 30 June will make it difficult for the US and Britain to persuade the rest of the world that he is capable of leading an independent government.

He is the person through whom the controversial claim was channelled that Iraqi weapons of mass destruction could be operational in 45 minutes.

Dr Allawi, aged 59, who trained as a neurologist, is a Shia Muslim who was a member of Saddam Hussein's Baath party in Iraq and in Britain, where he was a student leader with links to Iraqi intelligence. He later moved into opposition to the Iraqi leader and reportedly established a connection with the British security services. His change of allegiance led to Dr Allawi being targeted by Iraqi intelligence. In 1978 their agents armed with knives and axes badly wounded him when they attacked him as he lay asleep in bed in his house in Kingston-upon-Thames.

Dr Allawi became a businessman with contacts in Saudi Arabia. He was charming, intelligent and had a gift for impressing Western intelligence agencies. After the 1991 Gulf War, the Iraq National Accord (INA) party, which he helped to found, became one of the building blocks for the Iraqi opposition in exile. The organisation attracted former Iraqi army officers and Baath party officials, particularly Sunni Arabs, fleeing Iraq.

In the mid-1990s the INA claimed to have extensive contacts in the Iraqi officer corps. Dr Allawi began to move from the orbit of MI6 to the CIA. He persuaded his new masters that he was in a position to organise a military coup in Baghdad.

With American, British and Saudi support, he opened a headquarters and a radio station in Amman in Jordan in 1996, declaring it was "a historic moment for the Iraqi opposition". After a failed coup attempt that year there were mass arrests in Baghdad. Abdul-Karim al-Kabariti, the Jordanian prime minister of the day, said that INA's networks were "all penetrated by the Iraqi security services".

Dr Allawi and the INA returned to Iraq after the fall of Saddam and set up offices in Baghdad and in old Baath party offices throughout Iraq.

There were few signs that they had any popular support. During an uprising in the town of Baiji, north of Baghdad, last year, crowds immediately set fire to the INA office.

Dr Allawi was head of the security committee of the Iraqi Governing Council and was opposed to the dissolution of the army by Paul Bremer, the US viceroy in Iraq. He stepped down in protest as head of the committee during the US assault on Fallujah. But his reputation among Iraqis for working first with Saddam's intelligence agents and then with MI6 and the CIA may make it impossible for them to accept him as leader of an independent Iraq.