Former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, who previously supported Bush every step of the way, is now firmly calling for a US withdrawal timetable. (Photo: Nader Daoud / AP)
Dr. Ayad Allawi, the former interim Iraqi prime minister previously referred to even by US Congress members as a "Bush puppet," voiced his strong support for a US withdrawal timeline during a Wednesday Congressional hearing.
During his term in office, from June 2004 to April 2005, Allawi endorsed the US's controversial bombings of Fallujah and echoed Bush's speeches almost word for word in many of his own statements; The Washington Post reported that Bush administration officials coached Allawi on the content of his public comments. Prior to his involvement in the US-backed, post-invasion Iraqi government, Allawi worked with the CIA.
Yet, on Wednesday, Allawi blatantly called for "a time frame for reduction of US forces," a statement that stands in stark contrast to the hazy, deadline-less "time horizon" recently advocated by President Bush. Allawi stressed that the Iraqi people's wishes should take precedence in any agreement on the future of the American presence in Iraq.
"Most importantly, [the security agreement] should be transparent and get the approval of the Iraqi Parliament and people," he testified.
He emphasized the need to develop Iraq's political, military and economic sovereignty. This is of special significance because, since the advent of the occupation, the US has substantially altered Iraq's economic structures to favor American interests.
"We are concerned about the protection of Iraqi assets from foreign creditors," Allawi said.
He also spoke of the need for Iraq to cooperate closely with powers other than the US, like the Arab League and the United Nations.
According to Raed Jarrar, the Iraq consultant for the American Friends Service Committee, Allawi's words are not a total surprise: The politician had lately been moving toward a more nationalist approach. This movement is gaining steam, according to Jarrar.
"[Allawi] is forming a political front with other Sunnis, Shiites, seculars and Christians who are against partitioning Iraq and for ending all types of foreign interventions," Jarrar said.
What's more, Allawi's turnaround comes as the latest in a series of anti-occupation statements by Bush-backed Iraqi politicians. Even current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki recently expressed his hope for a timely US pullout, telling presidential candidate Barack Obama that he favors a 2010 withdrawal date.
"Huge public pressure" is a major factor in the politicians' changing sentiments, according to Jarrar, especially since election season is nearing in Iraq.
On the American side, despite a largely antiwar public opinion, some prominent political figures are steadfast in their opposition to a deadline. Wednesday's hearing featured foreign policy experts from both sides of the withdrawal debate, including Danielle Pletka of the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute. Pletka countered Allawi's call to consider Iraqi public opinion, saying that American commanders should be given full authority to decide the course of the US military presence in the coming years.
"[The] conduct of war and the protection of our national security is not a popularity contest," Pletka said. "Mob rule does not decide how a President deploys troops in his role as commander in chief, nor how the Congress allocates money with its power of the purse."
Yet, despite the influence of conservative think tanks, there's a growing sentiment among experts that the US must listen to Iraq in determining its future role there. Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, urged a sense of "respect for the Iraqi government." According to Kull, that means deferring to Iraq's wishes, whether the Bush administration likes it or not.
"Convincingly sending the message that the US will only be in Iraq as long as the government wants it to be is central," Kull said in testimony on Wednesday. "It is clear that the Iraqi people are quite eager for the US to lighten its military footprint in Iraq. More importantly, it appears that they are eager to regain their sense of sovereignty. As long as they do not have this sense, they are likely to continue to have a fundamentally hostile attitude toward all aspects of the US presence in Iraq."