Allawi represents a bid for Iraq's secular interests
Earlier this month, in an attempt to reach out to constituents, Ayad Allawi threw a party at his Baghdad headquarters for tribal sheiks...
Los Angeles Times
BAGHDAD, Iraq — Earlier this month, in an attempt to reach out to constituents, Ayad Allawi threw a party at his Baghdad headquarters for tribal sheiks from southern Iraq.
The day before, while campaigning in the holy city of Najaf, he had been pelted with shoes and rocks, and this time he was taking no chances. Protected by a ring of security guards, Allawi was staying in his compound. Voters — and those who could deliver crucial Shiite votes — would have to come to him.
"I have very extreme forces who are assembled against me," Allawi, 60, said later. "They would like to get rid of me physically, let alone politically."
The former interim prime minister is provocative indeed. His comeback bid in Thursday's national parliamentary elections poses the biggest threat to Iraq's religious-based Shiite Muslim establishment.
Allawi was appointed interim leader by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority, which oversaw Iraq after the 2003 invasion that toppled President Saddam Hussein. He portrays himself as a secular alternative, and is heading a bloc that includes Sunni Arabs.
In January's legislative elections, Allawi's coalition garnered just 14 percent of the vote. This time, he hopes more Iraqis will be swayed by his political message than the sectarian appeals of clerics.
"He probably is the most visible representative" of secular, middle-class Iraqis, said Wayne White, a former Iraq analyst for the State Department now with the Middle East Institute, a nonpartisan think tank.
"That element in Iraqi society ... is perhaps the most important societal glue that potentially could help prevent Iraq's effective breakup. As a result, his fate could be an interesting bellwether as to how well all this is going to turn out in the end."
Allawi needs to do much better at the polls than he did in January. And he may have trouble shedding his past.
Among many Shiites, he is tarnished by his membership in Saddam's Baath party during the 1970s, before he went into exile. Among Sunnis, said White, "he's still Shiite. To top it all off, he's an exile who received CIA funding."
Speculation has been widespread that Allawi is among the candidates favored by the British government and, to a lesser extent, the U.S., in large part because of his secular views. He denies foreign involvement in his well-financed campaign.
For Allawi, politics has always been bloody. In 1978 when he lived in Britain, an ax-wielding intruder, allegedly sent by Saddam, attacked him and his wife.
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