- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 29, 2004

BAGHDAD — Iraqi Prime Minister-designate Iyad Allawi plans to recall four divisions of Saddam Hussein’s old army — a move that would mark the most significant reversal of U.S. occupation policy to date.

Mr. Allawi also said he intended to create a rapid-reaction force and anti-terrorism unit to deal with the country’s security crisis — which is widely attributed to the U.S. decision to dismiss more than 300,000 soldiers following the fall of Baghdad.

“I would like to see the reconstitution of three to four divisions of the Iraqi army from midlevel officers to junior ranks,” he said in an interview. “I am only talking about the regular army here, not the Republican Guard.”

Under Saddam, each of 23 regular Iraqi army divisions had about 10,000 men.

“I also want to see the formation of a rapid-deployment force and an anti-terrorism outfit on intelligence and operational levels as well as an improved general intelligence operation,” Mr. Allawi said.

“Security and the economy are our biggest challenges. We have to beef up our security assets — the police, military, intelligence and army,” Mr. Allawi said.

He spoke in his offices in the former Ba’ath Party training college that now serves as the headquarters the Iraqi National Accord (INA), a political party he founded in exile more than a decade ago.

The U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council unanimously nominated Mr. Allawi to be prime minister in a new government to take power on June 30.

The Bush administration, the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority and U.N. Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi have publicly accepted the choice.

Although the emergence of the British-trained physician as the caretaker leader for the next six months took many Iraqis by surprise, he was already preparing to take over the reins when he spoke about his plans.

Mr. Allawi, 58, returned to Baghdad last year after more than 30 years in exile. When he was asked about the prospect of becoming the first head of government of a post-Saddam Iraq, a grin spread across his face.

“To be frank, that would make me very proud,” he said in excellent English as he sat back in a black leather armchair.

His new position arguably makes him the top target for insurgents such as those who assassinated the head of the outgoing Iraqi Governing Council two weeks ago.

But Mr. Allawi is used to living under threat — he survived an assassination attempt by ax-wielding Saddam henchmen in London — and aides say that he is unperturbed.

As he held meetings in the heavily fortified Green Zone yesterday to help choose the rest of the new government, including a president and two deputy presidents, several mortar bombs landed in the street, a reminder that nowhere in Iraq is safe.

The INA still draws heavily on former Iraqi military and intelligence officers, and Mr. Allawi believes the decisions last year to disband the old army en masse and introduce a rigid de-Ba’athification policy contributed significantly to the collapse in law and order.

As the man who will run the interim government until elections in January, he wants the policy reversed.

Up to half of former Iraqi army officers would be willing to return to service if asked, he said. He also would draw on former special forces troops, the tribes, the political parties and the Kurdish militia for the new forces.

Mr. Allawi was diplomatic on the contentious issues of how long coalition forces should remain in Iraq and the chain of command after June 30.

“Iraq has to have a presence within the command structure, but the details need to be discussed,” he said. “We need a partnership with the U.S. and Europe for the sake of peace, stability and progress in the region as a whole.”

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