Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Shoe Sales ‘Way Up’ In Najaf

The well-shod ex-Prime Minister of Iraq, Ayad Allawi, was the target of ground-to-ground projectiles today—mostly in the form of shoes and sandals. The incident occurred inside the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf, with CNN’s Nic Robertson in tow.

The images of Allawi hurriedly hauling his hefty hulk ahead of a hail of foot wear were hilarious, and potentially back-breaking for his ‘tough guy’ image. With about ten days to go before a crucial election, whereby Allawi was projected to increase his current 40 seat block in the next parliament, there’s just too little time for him to recover.


Would Allawi look-alike Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) run away like a sissy?

Sure, he will claim that there was a conspiracy to assassinate him. Here’s the most important fact about Allawi’s personality: he is a liar. In fact, he is an accomplished liar, and some of my fondest memories of the Iraqi opposition days revolved around watching him perform his craft. My favorite yarn of falsehood was: “I was sitting with George and I told him that I am late for an appointment, but George insisted that I have to take one more cup of tea, but I told him I must go. But while walking out, I ran into Tony, who grabbed me by the arm and insisted that I join him and George for a while.” [‘George’ being George Tenet, and ‘Tony’ being Tony Blair.] He revealed this tale sometime in mid-2002 at the Ritz Carlton, Pentagon City, Virginia.

Allawi had also claimed back in July to have been the target of an assassination attempt while visiting Lebanon, and that Nabih Berri’s security detail had foiled the attempt. Berry’s people issued a statement saying that the shooting that Allawi mistook for an attempt on his life was celebratory gun fire in the street outside the restaurant where he was eating, and that the shooters were happy at Berri’s victory in the Lebanese polls at the time.

And then of course there is the claim that Saddam’s regime sent an axe-wielding assassin to kill Allawi in the late 1970s in London. I wonder why no journalist has put in the time to check out the original police report on the incident. I have a hunch that it might contain some words along the lines of “jealous husband,” “infidelity” and “household disturbance.”

But whatever way this incident today gets spun, the most important thing to remember is that most Iraqis hate the Ba’ath Party, as well as anything or anyone associated with its legacy. They certainly won’t stomach anyone trying to re-incorporate Ba’athists back into the fabric of the state. There is a very important ratio to keep in mind when pondering Iraqi politics: for every Ba’athist there are four very real victims. Not victims whose feelings were hurt at one point or another, but rather I’m talking about suffering on the scale of losing loved ones, torture, imprisonment…etc. Today’s crowd rejected Allawi because he is too associated with Ba’athists and with their attempted political rehabilitation.

Furthermore, today’s outburst crowns a mounting anger that’s been bubbling-up over the course of the last two weeks in the election campaign. Somehow, Allawi’s list got tainted with the public perception that it is a ‘Ba’athist list.' This was not helped by the campaign’s insistence on promoting Allawi as the sole face of the list, neglecting to mention the Communists or other independents running alongside him.



One last note: never point the soles of your shoes in the direction of an Iraqi. It is considered the gravest of insults. The most memorable images from the day when Saddam and his Ba’ath Party were overthrown were the pictures of Iraqis beating the tyrant’s likenesses with their footwear. Being pelted by shoes and sandals, and running away, will look REALLY bad to an Iraqi audience. It is just one of these moments when history takes a sharp turn into the unknown; the Saudi royals—who are heavily subsidizing Allawi’s campaign according to several informed sources—must now go back to square one and bet on another horse.

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