Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Baghdad Rumor Mill: al-Wa’ili, a ‘Man of Action’

According to the gossip-mongers of Baghdad’s political class, the CIA’s contingency plan—in case things get messy—is a man, and this man’s name is Sherwan al-Wa’ili. Which is weird, since most had assumed that he was Iran’s guy.

Now, let’s be clear that no one is talking about a coup…yet.

The idea is that should there be some reason why Maliki gets physically or politically incapacitated—a constitutional crisis, a military confrontation in which the Iraqi Army is forced to retreat at the hands of the peshmerga, an Iranian-orchestrated assassination attempt, a too aggressive move against the ‘Sons of Iraq’—then there’s no need to worry for Mr. al-Wa’ili can easily and effortlessly take over.

Shirwan al Waeli

Al-Wa’ili currently serves at the PM’s pleasure as the State Minister for National Security, which is different from the British/Saudi security shop, Muwaffeq al-Rubay’i’s Office of the National Security Advisor, or the CIA’s own Iraqi Intelligence Service, run by Gen. Mohammad al-Shahwani.

Al-Wa’ili is a member of the Da’awa Party-Iraq faction (…the point-person of that organization being Abdel-Karim al-‘Anizi) that is seen as an offshoot of the Iranian itila’at, or intelligence service.

But that hasn’t always been the case: up until the fall of the Saddam regime, al-Wa’ili was an officer of the Iraqi Army, and a trusted one at that, even though he had a brother in Detroit who was a member of the Da’awa Party and had participated in the 1991 Uprising.

Here’s some background on the guy:

Sherwan Kamil Sebti al-Wa’ili’s family came to Nassiriya from obscure origins. His first name, Sherwan, is Kurdish, but he’s not. I’m sure he has a colorful anecdote as to why his parents chose this name for an Arab (or at least a non-Kurdish) kid but what is certain is that one doesn’t have a grandfather called ‘Sebti’ and claim to be of Kurdish origin.

At the time of liberation on April 9, 2003, al-Wa’ili was an army engineer, who worked closely with Ali Hassan al-Majid, ‘Ali Chemical’, Saddam’s murderous cousin and military enforcer. This relationship had spun off wild tales about al-Wa’ili's alleged Ba’athist past, but what I’ve managed to determine is that it was nothing more than the relationship of a junior officer with his commander. Other tales talk about a fortune that al-Majid had entrusted with al-Wa’ili right before the downfall of the regime, a fortune which the latter allegedly used to purchase immunity and later political standing among Iraq’s new caste of rulers. But according to my investigation, that story is simply not true.

Al-Wa’ili rose to the top through accident, and for being efficient, trusted and well-liked. When the Americans first came to Nassiriya, they found their way to the home of Sheikh Ali aal-Minshid, the chieftain of the Ghizzi tribe. I don’t know who set this meeting up and whether there had been earlier contact between the Americans and aal-Minshid, but what happened was that there was a top ranking Ba’athist in that house, who had sought the tribal protection of his relative, the sheikh. This fellow lived in Adhamiya in Baghdad, and had assumed that there would be a bloodbath right after the fall of the regime, so he went to Nassiriya until things blew over. Suddenly, he found himself in a situation where the Americans were asking for recommendations as to who can manage the municipal affairs of Nassiriya, and this guy immediately thought of his friend, al-Wa’ili.

And so it happened that al-Wa’ili became something of a deputy governor for the Province of Dhi Qar. From then on, he found his way to parliament and later to a ministerial post, as a candidate of Da’awa-Iraq. There’s also a story of how he became a protégé of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an MP now in hiding in Iran after it transpired that he’d been a wanted terrorist for decades. Then there’s the lesser known story of how al-Wa’ili undermined al-Muhandis, earning brownie points with the Americans and the Gulfis as a result.

Things get even weirder when one keeps hearing, again from the rumor mill, that al-Wa’ili is a business partner of sorts with Shakir al-Khafaji, the former longtime Iraqi-American apologist for the Saddam regime (…who could have been double-dealing with the Americans too, who knows!), and who has still managed to make a bundle doing deals with post-Saddam Iraq, under the cover of a security company called Veritas Global. Other names suggesting a pattern of ‘partnerships’ with al-Wa’ili include frontmen for the Jordanian intelligence service.

In recent weeks, Washington has been overrun with Iraqi officers from every military and security branch conceivable. The gossipers claim that these officers are being told to follow al-Wa’ili’s lead. When eyebrows got arched given al-Wa’ili’s Iran connections, the officers were allegedly reassured that al-Wa’ili is in the good books of the Americans. When al-Shahwani’s own people, who’ve always felt that al-Wa’ili was running a competing, Iranian-backed intelligence service, raised all sorts of red flags, they were told, again allegedly, that al-Shahwani is on the outs (…by August), and that they must address their fealty to a ‘Man of Action’, Mr. al-Wa’ili.

The other name frequently named as al-Wa’ili’s ‘partner’ in this new relationship with the Americans is Maliki’s security advisor, Gen. Farouq al-‘Araji.

As some of the readers of this blog know, Talisman Gate is not above discussing gossip, since political gossip has value in and of itself. The general outlines may not be true, yet it is interesting that this seems to be what people are whispering around the Green Zone.


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