Allawi leading contender in Iraq

Washington Post:

The man who was widely derided as an American puppet when he stepped down as prime minister five years ago has become a leading contender for Iraq's top job based on his strong showing in this month's elections among a group that lost more than any other with the U.S.-led invasion.

Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite known for his willingness to use brute force when necessary, has returned to the center of Iraqi politics after receiving millions of votes from Sunni Arabs, a minority that has felt marginalized since Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003. Political blocs led by Allawi and Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki are neck-and-neck in a race that is still too close to call with 95 percent of ballots counted. Remaining results are expected to be released Friday.

Allawi and his political coalition won Sunni support in part because he is considered less sectarian than other Shiite leaders and was not in office during the vicious sectarian bloodletting that marked the first two years of Maliki's tenure. With the U.S. military preparing to substantially draw down its presence this summer, many Sunnis voted with the hope that Allawi would restore some of their lost status.

"It's the nostalgia of hindsight. Who would have ever thought that Allawi's tenure as prime minister would look good in retrospect?" said Ryan C. Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq from 2007 until 2009. "I think it does to many Sunni Arabs in the wake of everything that came after that. He has always had the persona of the nonsectarian political figure."

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Allawi's bloc of about 45 parties, the most prominent of which are Sunni, was the key target of a pre-election effort to disqualify candidates because of their supposed Baathist ties. The effort galvanized Sunni Arabs, who felt unfairly targeted, and the percentage of voters turning out to vote in Sunni areas surpassed that in Shiite areas for the first time. In the past, the Sunni vote had been suppressed by violence and boycotts.

Allawi, once scorned for standing by as the U.S. military carried out major offensives that killed scores in both the Shiite south and the Sunni west, is now respected for going after both groups equally.

...

I thought Allawi was the best of the post Saddam Iraqi leaders. He was even handed and strongly pro US. He would also stand up to Iran better than Maliki. That would be a real plus as US forces leave. In terms of containing Iran he would be the best choice.

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