Sunday, May 30, 2004

BAGHDAD — Throughout Iraq yesterday, residents were asking whether Iyad Allawi — the man chosen to serve as their interim prime minister — matched their needs and expectations.

Most said they were willing to give him a chance.

“He’s well-known and well-respected,” said Thala Taher, a lawyer who speculated that Mr. Allawi’s background in intelligence and security matters will help bring order to a lawless post-Saddam Iraq. “He’s a disciplined person. He’s firm and he can lead the government.”

Indeed, the Iraqi Governing Council chose Mr. Allawi over other figures — such as nuclear scientist Hossein al-Shahristani, the choice of U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi — precisely because he’s a politician and a natural leader, said Hamid al-Kafaai, the council’s spokesman.

“We think that any government in Iraq must be strong,” he said. “A government cannot be strong if it doesn’t have a political following.”

But many Iraqis criticized Mr. Allawi’s political skills.

The proposed prime minister reportedly has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars currying favor with politicians in Washington. But his political party, the Iraqi National Accord, has yet to reach out to Iraqi communities with speeches, posters or any kind of grass-roots politicking, Iraqis said.

“Neither he nor any of his representatives has come to this area and seen our needs or our situation,” said Moaned Sabah, an ex-soldier working in the bazaar of Adhamiya, a Sunni Arab area where support for Iraq’s current political order is rare.

“The sewers are flooding, the electricity is out, unemployment is very high,” he said. “None of them has come and asked us whether we want anything or what they could do for us.”

Some spoke even more harshly of Mr. Allawi, who was a member of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party until falling out with former Iraqi leader in the early 1970s.

Mahmoud Thaer, a taxi driver, called him an opportunist. “Iyad Allawi benefited under Saddam’s regime,” he said. “When he had a dispute with him, he left the country and benefited from the United States. Now he’s come back and benefiting again.”

Iraq’s newspapers were divided on Mr. Allawi, though most have yet to come out with decisive opinions. Al Sabah, an independent daily, published a piece suggesting Mr. Allawi’s past makes him a poor leader for the sovereign, democratic Iraq the Americans have promised Iraqis.

“The choice of Mr. Allawi, who is a Shia living in exile with close relations to the generals of the Ba’ath Party and the CIA, hardly seems to be a good start,” it said.

But Al-Manar al-Yom, a moderate daily, praised the choice in its May 30 edition. “He has good political relations with most Iraqi political powers,” it said. “He calls for not excluding the Ba’athists, but trying to incorporate them into the society.

Many said they will wait to see how Mr. Allawi addresses the country’s security, economy and infrastructure woes.

“Nobody will pass a judgment without seeing what he can do,” said Hajj Ibrahim Mottahari, a deputy to Ayatollah Hadi al-Modaressi, an influential, but moderate Shi’ite cleric based in Karbala.

“If his actions during the coming six months will be positive, then the people will support him. If his actions will be negative, then the people will reject him.”

He added, “We are willing to give him a chance.”

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