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Ex-Baathist With Ties to the CIA and Saudi Intelligence Picked To Be New Iraqi Prime Minister

Tuesday, June 1st, 2004

The Iraqi Governing Council was dissolved today as a newly selected Iraqi government emerged comprising many key members of the Council including Ayad Allawi who will become prime minister. Andrew Cockburn talks about Allawi's ties to the old Baathist regime, the CIA, MI6, Saudi intelligence and how Allawi claims that Iraq had WMDs and ties to Al Qaeda. [includes rush transcript]

The US pick for Iraqi president in the post June 30 Iraqi government has refused to take the position after being picked by the Iraqi Governing Council.

The U.S. had been heavily lobbying for former Iraqi foreign minister Adnan Pachachi to fill the largely symbolic seat. On Monday, US occupation head Paul Bremer forced the council to delay a vote when it appeared Pachachi didn't have enough votes. The London Independent reported Bremer threatened to veto any vote by the governing council if it did not select Pachachi.

Earlier today the council, under this pressure, picked Pachachi, only for him to say no to the job. Then the council picked his main opponent, another Sunni, Ghazi al-Yawar, a tribal leader who also sits on the Governing Council.

In his first public remarks after being appointed Yawar said wanted the United Nations Security Council to grant the country "full sovereignty through a Security Council resolution to enable us to rebuild a free, independent, democratic and federal unified homeland." Last week Yawar criticized the draft for giving too little control to Iraqis over U.S. troops remaining on their soil.

While the presidency will be a largely symbolic position, the U.S. offered up no protest on Friday when the Council picked Ayad Allawi, a former Baathist who has ties to the CIA and Saudi intelligence, to be prime minister.


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AMY GOODMAN: We turn to Andrew Cockburn, co-author of the book, "Out of the Ashes -- the Resurrection of Saddam Hussein." You wrote a profile of Ayad Allawi, entitled, "A man for all intrigues." Tell us about the new Prime Minister.

ANDREW COCKBURN: He is a man very much of intrigue. Sketching his history very quickly: He made his mark as a Ba'athist student organizer in the 1960's. He's not remembered with a tremendous amount of affection by his fellow students in Baghdad University. He graduated from there and was sent to London, really to keep an eye on Iraqi students, to run the Iraqi Student Union in Europe, to keep an eye on what Iraqi students were up to. At that point, they were starting with the -- once the oil money started to come in a big way, like other Middle Eastern countries they were sending people to study in Western Europe and the United States. And Allawi's job was to keep an eye on them. This was personally beneficial for him, which he made a lot of contacts there, and later on in his business career, he were able to develop relationships with the people who were going to join the other country, particularly in Saudi Arabia where he has strong connections. At a certain point, he fell out or shifted his allegiances and started to -- he made a connection with British Intelligence, which reached the attentive ears in Baghdad, which sent a gang of people to kill him in London. They broke into his house, and they lay about him as he lay in bed with axes, injuring him severely. His father-in-law appeared and they got scare and they ran off. That ended any relationship that he had with Baghdad. But this cemented his relationship with the British. He was more or less nestled under their wing through the 1980's and up until the early 1990's when they began to share him with the C.I.A. After the C.I.A. got tired of Ahmad Chalabi and his they had a soft spot for Allawi. He was sort of the first stop for defecting Iraqi army officers in the 1990's. He had a headquarters in Amman. He had -- he had connections in the officer corps inside Iraq. He tried to mount a coup in 1996 for which the C.I.A. had high hopes that turned out it was penetrated. It was incompetently set up. It was totally penetrated by Saddam's securities. They were arrested and executed without too much trouble. But that didn't sour his relationship with the C.I.A. Now he's emerged blinking into the sunlight to be the Prime Minister of Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk more about Allawi's connections to Saudi intelligence which has hardly been mentioned anywhere.

ANDREW COCKBURN: Well, he has been in receipt of their funds for quite a while. I mean, back in the -- as I said he made these connections in 1970's and 1980's. He has always got on very well with al Fazal, the long-time head of Saudi intelligence. There was a fellow ex-Ba'athist of his, they clubbed together. This was right after the 1991 war. And they extracted a check ---they fell out after the check they collected from the Saudis of $40,000, which was their biggest catch to date, they fell out over -- over into whose bank account the check should go. Saliomar was the other guy. He disappeared from history. But Allawi seems to have gotten over that incident. The Saudis liked him, because although he's a Shia. He was a Shia, but he's not one of those angry religious type Shia, he has had a gift for getting on with intelligence people. They pushed him and recommended him to the C.I.A., and the British already had him. He has been on very good terms with them all the way through. It's not insignificant that -- I wouldn't be surprised if there have been Saudi funds supporting him in the last year or so. That's in contrast to the relationship with Iran, although he has never had relations with the Iranians, but he is Shia.

AMY GOODMAN: What about what you write that the new Prime Minister of Iraq, Allawi is the one who admitted that he personally passed on the now disputed intelligence to MI-6, British intelligence, about Saddam Hussein launching weapons of mass destruction in 45 minutes?

ANDREW COCKBURN: Well, that's right. I mean, as I said, underscores his long and deep relationship with the British. Insofar as it had any foundation which it didn't, his reported source for this was a colonel in the Iraqi military. He passed on this unfounded piece of gossip, but it got an eager reception at 10 Downing Street. It just shows in passing one should say -- it shows that one should blame Ahmad Chalabi for every lie that was told in the run-up to the war. People like Allawi did their bit which was useful for Tony Blair. I should mention in passing that there's a significant appointment through much -- a month ago they appointed a new head of Iraqi intelligence, Bremer did. It was a former general called al-Shawani, he was actually the general who was a mastermind of the would-be coup in 1996, for which the C.I.A. had such high hope, which was being run under Allawi's auspices. You can see the sort of Allawi administration is being put in place for some time in Baghdad.

AMY GOODMAN: The new U.S.-backed Allawi, who is related to Ahmad Chalabi by marriage has claimed that ties have been found between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, although most Iraqi experts claim no such ties have been found. He told the "Daily Telegraph" last year, quote, we are uncovering evidence all the time of Saddam's involvement with al Qaeda. He had contact with those responsible for the September 11 attacks. Allawi charged that he had evidence that hijacker, Mohammed Atta had contact with the Iraqi intelligence service.

ANDREW COCKBURN: It shows that in discarding one liar, Chalabi, they have promoted, if anything, a bigger one. I mean, the difference in styles between the two men, Allawi is not so good or not interested in cultivating the press, except for the "Daily Telegraph," with whom he has had close relations. From what you have just said, it's clear that he would basically do anything to please his masters. Finally, this latest news, the developments in the last hours, Adnan Pachachi, whom the U.S. was pushing to be president, has said no, and the whole process by which these men are being chosen. Well, it's -- in a way, it shows the -- what we have seen all along is the total political incompetence of the C.I.A. and Bremer. I mean, it's just been one sort of disaster after another. I mean, the governing council was hand-picked by the Americans. Yet, they can't get them to do what they tell them. I think, one person who deserves credit is Adnan Pachachi. From the beginning when they moved into Baghdad and seized nice houses and balance lasss himself, he was the only one that insisted on paying rent. He has always exhibited integrity. He has shown it again by having gotten the job through Bremer twisting people's arms, he has actually turned it down, on the grounds that he didn't have -- his support was not deep. The al-Yawer, who has now got the job -- I mean, it's an interesting appointment or interesting choice. He's the leader of a very important faction of the Shamar tribe, a huge tribe that stretchs into Syria and Jordan that has Sunni and Shia components. In a way, it's not that bad, if you are thinking of Iraqi stability. But it's kind of odd that in the 21st century, we're back to tribal politics.

AMY GOODMAN: The reports are now that the Iraqi governing council has dissolved itself and the new post-June 30 government is now in power.

ANDREW COCKBURN: Well, isn't that interesting? We have a month to go. Are they going to start telling the Americans when and where they can do military operations? Are they going to -- I mean, who controls the prisons? Things are moving very fast there. I mean, I have -- I am interested to see -- it's going to be a very -- it's going to be interesting to see what happens in the future.

AMY GOODMAN: Andrew Cockburn, I want to thank you for being with us. Independent reporter speaking to us from Washington. His book that he wrote with his brother, Patrick Cockburn, is called, "Out of the Ashes- The resurrection of Saddam Hussein." This is Democracy Now!.