Falluja battle costs Allawi support

Posted in Iraq | 15-Nov-04 | Author: Edward Wong| Source: International Herald Tribune

Iraqis lined up at a school in Basra to register to vote in the elections scheduled for late January.
BAGHDAD As Ayad Allawi, Iraq's interim prime minister, starts to position his party for the coming national elections, rising public denunciation by prominent Iraqi groups of the invasion of Falluja has put his political support at risk when he needs it most.

Allawi will almost certainly run for one of the seats in the 275-member Assembly in the January elections. In preparation, he and other politicians in his party, the Iraqi National Accord, have begun jockeying to form coalitions to secure as many votes as possible.

But depending on the outcome in Falluja, Allawi, 58, could find himself without a significant political ally. Even if the battle ends quickly and without a large number of civilian casualties, Allawi, by ordering the invasion, has affirmed his image as an ardent supporter of the U.S. presence in Iraq.

That itself is enough to keep other politicians from wanting to be linked to him.

"The Allawi government has full responsibility for whatever happens in Falluja," said Redha Jowad Taki, a senior official in the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a powerful Shiite party. "Support for the government has been eroding since last summer," Taki said. "It had big backing among the people then, but it's failed to deal with gangs of terrorists, and that has led to the loss of support."

Further, public condemnation of Allawi's role in the offensive has come from a wide band of Iraq's political spectrum.

The leading group of Sunni clerics, the Muslim Scholars Association, singled out Allawi for criticism last week when it called for a boycott of elections to protest the offensive.

"The Iraqi clerics place on the government of Ayad Allawi the entire legal and historical responsibility for what Falluja is going through, which is genocide at the hands of the occupiers," said Harith al-Dhari, the association's leader.

The group says it represents 3,000 mosques, and its denunciation of the Falluja invasion comes as no surprise, since it has always supported the Sunni-led insurgency.

What is likely to do more political harm to Allawi, who is a Shiite, is the fact that Shiite leaders also are condemning the invasion. Shiites make up at least 60 percent of Iraq's population and are the largest voting bloc.

The most powerful Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, said through a spokesman on Friday that the security issue should be solved through peaceful means.

Representatives of Moktada al-Sadr, the rebel Shiite cleric, are calling on Iraqis not to take part in the offensive. "Don't stain your hands with Iraqi blood," an aide to Sadr, Sheik Abdul Hadi al-Daraji, said in front of thousands of worshipers at a Baghdad mosque on Friday.

"We demand you stop fighting against your brothers in Falluja," he said.

There are Iraqis, especially Shiites and Kurds, who do support the Falluja invasion, which is aimed at wiping out resistance from Sunni insurgents. The problem is that, with elections coming up, even those supporters are likely to denounce the offensive publicly, no matter what they really think, because siding with the U.S.-led forces could cost them votes.

So Allawi finds himself increasingly alone in the political arena.

Robert F. Worth contributed reporting from Falluja and Eric Schmitt from Washington.