Isikoff: The Allawi Interview

Former Iraqi prime minister Ayad Allawi recently signed a $300,000 contract with the politically connected Washington lobbying firm of Barbour Griffith & Rogers. Allawi says his goal is to encourage Congress and the Bush administration to apply more pressure on the Iraqi government of Nuri al-Maliki. In a telephone interview with NEWSWEEK correspondent Michael Isikoff from Amman, Jordan, this week, Allawi discussed his hiring of the lobbying firm—and why he thinks President Bush's surge has failed to achieve its goals.

NEWSWEEK: You have said you want the United States to apply more pressure on the Iraqi government. But is that what you really want? Or do you actually want to change the Iraqi government?
Ayad Allawi:
Well, I don't think it is in the hands of the United States to change the Iraqi government. But definitely it is in the hands of the United States to apply pressure because we have to acknowledge the United States is … protecting the government. The [Iraqi] government should be [held] accountable. You can't have your cake and eat it. You can't have the protection of the United States, the surge—thousands, tens of thousands of American soldiers—and the government not taking advantage of it.

I don't think the government is capable or ready or wanting to achieve reconciliation. The revised new [de-Baathification] law is another mirror image of the existing law which has lead to a lot of violence and to millions of Iraqis leaving the country.

The question the American people have to answer: is the surge working? You seem to be saying the purpose of the surge has not been accomplished.
No, definitely not. You can see what is happening in the last few days … As we speak now, there are massacres in Baghdad, in Najaf, Karbala … Things will only escalate in the next coming days. The problems are mushrooming in the country.

So continuing the surge without a change in the Iraqi government is a dead end?
I think so. Of course.

You recently retained the Washington lobbying firm of Barbour Griffith. They helped you in the preparation of your six-point plan [which calls for declaring a state of emergency and the removal "through parliamentary means" of the current Iraqi government.] What do you hope to accomplish by signing this contract and retaining them?
We owe it to the United States to give our views and to explain our views and what can be done to save the country and to save the American mission in Iraq.

Ambassador Robert Blackwill [the Barbour Griffith partner who will be lobbying for Allawi] was quite instrumental in Iraq policy for the Bush administration. Did he approach you or did you approach him?
He spoke to me and he said … there is a vacuum in Washington, and we would be able to help.

So this was his idea?
He expressed his views, his readiness to help us getting our message across … We couldn't get ourselves into Washington. My people have asked since about eight months ago, [saying] that we wanted to go to Washington and we couldn't get an invitation..

Where did you meet with Mr. Blackwill?
We met in a European city….He contacted me. We were having lunch…He said, your views are not being heard in Washington.

When was this?
I don't remember.

Can you tell me what city was it?
No, I don't want to.

When you were asked by Wolf Blitzer over the weekend, you said it was an Iraq who was paying for this. Just one individual?
No, two individuals.

Can you say who they are?
Of course not.

Why not?
For security reasons. They may be killed by the Iranians. They may be killed by the sectarian people.

Are they in Iraq?
You are investigating this? … The blood in Iraq is being spilled and hundreds of people are being killed every single day….. These are very trivial issues you are asking [about].

The only reason I'm asking, sir, is our understanding of the law in Foreign Agents Registration Act is that the identity of the people who are paying for lobbying representation in Washington must be publicly disclosed.
Our supporters are members of the Iraqi National Accord. We are not doing anything illegal….What are you, the FBI?

I'm a reporter with Newsweek. Look, David Ignatius, a very distinguished Washington Post columnist, wrote the other day that you are getting very substantial financial support from the Saudis, from the Persian Gulf States, from others outside of Iraq.
I refer you back to the interview I did with Wolf Blitzer. [Allawi said in that interview: "We are trying to look for financial support for the national program to save Iraq and save the region. But what Ignatius said….is not that correct."]

Do you want to be Prime Minister again?
Frankly, I'm not finding this interview interesting…I thought you would ask me more substantial questions on the future of the country, on the magnitude of the problems, on the killings and the bloodshed….Could you answer me, why did the United States lay down the benchmarks?

I think it's pretty clear. That was an effort to apply pressure right there.
Exactly so. So let them have the government [be] accountable—and see if they have responded on these benchmarks or not.

Your answer is pretty clear. They have not met the benchmarks. So the question is, what do you think the consequences should be? Should the United States begin to withdraw troops from Iraq?
It's not my business to tell the Americans what they should do or not should do.

But you're telling the American people that the benchmarks have not been met. So therefore the only ultimate pressure is what some Democrats in Congress have been saying: tell the Iraqi government we will begin withdrawing troops.
This is up to the United States. My position is to state the facts. The fact is the Iraqi government has not take advantage of the surge.

You were once supported by the U.S. government. You were the favored leader of the CIA.
I don't think so. This is news to me. I know I was elected by the Governing Council.

Some would say you did have a lot of support in Iraq at one time, but it was mostly the secular middle class. These are the people who have been most affected by the violence, and the people that have largely left Iraq. So you have much less support in Iraq today than you did a number of years ago.
Fine, ok. So? We don't have a country. We don't have stability to have proper polling to know what support I have or other people have. I know the country is in chaos, and it's in the middle of a civil war. People are killing each other and sectarianism is rife. And it is crushing the people of Iraq.