‘What’s important for the American people to hear is reality, and the reality is right here in the form of the Prime Minister, and he is explaining what is happening on the ground... He knows what’s going on because he lives there.’ So President George Bush welcomed Iyad Allawi when he visited the US in September 2004. ‘The insurgency in Iraq is destructive but small,’ Allawi duly assured the US Congress. ‘It has not and will never resonate with the Iraqi people.’
Both their remarks were, of course, less concerned with Iraq than with the US presidential elections. Allawi was providing another invaluable service to his American handlers. But whatever else he brought with him, the sound of reality in Iraq was not an audible part of it. Allawi hasn’t lived there since 1971. He remains a British citizen. He returned to Iraq with the US occupation, but has lived inside the ‘Green Zone’ – a foreign enclave accessible only through multiple layers of US armed guards – in Baghdad ever since.
Allawi was born in Iraq in 1945 to a wealthy family of merchants from the majority Shi’a Muslim faith. His grandfather helped to negotiate Iraq’s independence from Britain; his father was a member of the Iraqi parliament. Iyad attended medical school in Baghdad, where he became a student organizer for the Ba’ath Party of Saddam Hussein, who finally came to power shortly after a CIA-sponsored coup in 1968.
Iyad moved to London in 1971 to train as a neurologist. A Ba’ath loyalist, as president of the Iraqi Student Union in Europe he was widely believed to have connections with Saddam’s secret police, the Mukhabarat, whose ‘hit team’ went around killing Iraqi dissenters abroad. An unexplained parting of the ways soon followed. In February 1978 Allawi was awoken in his Surrey home by an intruder who attacked him with an axe – an agent of Saddam, it was presumed. Allawi spent the next year in hospital and still walks with a limp to prove it.
Next he devoted himself to the business of making money. As a sideline, and by way of revenge, he set up a network of defectors from the Iraqi military and cultivated as many secret service agencies as possible. Quite how much personal wealth he either inherited or acquired is not known, but when his family’s assets in Iraq were confiscated he claimed they were worth $250 million.
Then he got his first big break. During preparations for the first Gulf War in December 1990 he announced the formation of the Iraqi National Accord (INA). It was sponsored by the British Government with secret backing from Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the US. To prove itself the INA organized terrorist attacks in Iraq between 1992 and 1995, including the bombing of a cinema and a school bus in which children were killed. However, its competence came into question in 1996 when it attempted a military coup that ended with the execution of almost all the participants who were unfortunate enough to live in Iraq. Undeterred, and lacking any political routes in Iraq, the INA turned its attention to engineering a US invasion. Meanwhile Allawi was recruited by the CIA as a counterweight to its other main ‘asset’, Ahmad Chalabi (see