Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi leans on a lectern in the Rose Garden, a swagger in his pose. He's side by side with President George W. Bush, a man who knows something about swaggering. Allawi doesn't look out of place -- not here, perhaps not anywhere.
His eyebrows arc upward. His glasses ride low on his nose. He looks stern and focused and intense, even as he looks charmed and amused, kind of avuncular, like an Iraqi Tony Soprano, but in a fine charcoal gray suit.
Sen. Joe Biden, left, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist sponsored a lunch at the Capitol in honor of Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, center.
(Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
None of this is to suggest a thug. That's not quite right. By training, Allawi's a neurologist. But there is the temper to consider, as when he got angry with some aides not too long ago and slammed his hand on a table -- hard -- and broke his right wrist. And there's the unfounded but popular Baghdad street rumor of his recent gunplay against some bad guys. Not to mention his work in the 1990s with the CIA, including a bungled coup plot.
He is a man on a mission that has consumed his life, a man of single-minded focus born, perhaps, that night in London in 1978 when intruders presumed to be Saddam Hussein's henchmen tried to hack him apart with axes. His leg was almost severed. His chest suffered a cleaving blow. The hospital had him for nearly a year, and the quest to recover Iraq from Hussein has had him for nearly three decades more.
So at yesterday's Rose Garden ceremony, at this time of beheadings, body counts and car bombs, he is telling of his efforts to tamp down the uprisings, to make sure elections can go forward in January, to sway tribal leaders in places like Fallujah to get with the program, with democracy and development.
"Do you want to bring Saddam back from the hole in the ground living like a rat?" That is what he says to the fence-sitters in Iraq.
"Do you want to bring him back to rule Iraq? Or do you want to bring bin Laden or similar persons to bin Laden to rule Iraq? If you want to do this, we will fight you room to room, house to house."
And judging by his strategy in the crisis last month in the battle of Najaf, Allawi, 59, is prepared to do just that, although he also offers insurgents the option of throwing their lot in with the new political process.
He is, said a U.S. congressional official who follows Iraq, a tough guy trying to bring to Iraqis the thing they really want.
"They want a badass guy who is going to solve the security problem," this official said.
And they've got Allawi.
He is, yes, Bush's man in Baghdad. After all, the United States appointed him to the Iraqi Governing Council, from which he emerged as interim prime minister.
But Allawi also is a man perched at that nexus where agendas converge. He is a man of expedience.
"It's a mutually beneficial relationship," said Judith Kipper. Director of the Middle East Forum at the Council on Foreign Relations, she is an acquaintance of Allawi's.