Ex-Premier Leads Quest to Block Shiite Alliance

By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, December 15, 2005

BAGHDAD, Dec. 14 -- Ayad Allawi, who is now leading a quest to block Shiite religious parties from establishing overwhelming dominance of Iraq in Thursday's national elections, learned to survive Iraqi politics from two men standing in the dark at the foot of his bed with axes.

The predawn attack in 1973 proved to be only the forerunner of decades of ambushes and bombings; in Iraq's three-week election campaign, attackers killed 13 of Allawi's associates. He says the bedside assault came at the behest of Saddam Hussein, who sent armed henchmen to his London apartment after a falling-out between Allawi and the Baath Party.

"I was fast asleep, 3 o'clock, and suddenly -- it was God's will -- I opened my eyes. And I saw these shadows at the end of my bed. There were two of them, staring," Allawi said.

"For half a second, I wondered if I was dreaming,'' Allawi said, relating the story with gusto more than three decades later. "I saw something flickering, and I knew I was not dreaming," he said, and guffawed.

Blows from an ax split open Allawi's skull, unleashing a torrent of what Allawi initially thought was hot water but turned out to be blood. Other blows laid bare the bones in his leg, and then in his wife's arm when she tried to save him, he said. The battle went on for "six, seven, eight minutes,'' Allawi said; he managed to wrest an ax from one of the men before they fled, leaving him for dead.

"I fought," Allawi said. "And I survived."

He then added the obligatory axiom of the Muslim world: "But it's God's will, really.''

On Thursday, Iraq's Shiite religious parties will vie with the disparate groups of Sunni Arabs, secularists and others that Allawi hopes to rally in a battle that many on both sides see as a matter of life or death. The likely coalition government formed out of the National Assembly elected Thursday will complete the new constitution and determine the extent to which Iraq becomes a religious state, like neighboring Iran. It will decide whether Iraq splits into three or more sub-states or remains united, and will have considerable influence over whether the country slides into full-scale civil war.

Political violence already has killed tens of thousands since the U.S. overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003, and each ethnic, religious and political group fears persecution if the vote brings its opponents to power.

The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the Shiite religious party founded in exile in Iran that now leads Iraq's transitional government, portrays Allawi as a closet Baath Party loyalist who would end the political prominence that religious Shiites have enjoyed since soon after the U.S. invasion.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Council's armed wing, the Badr Organization, appeared to warn that it would fight to overthrow Allawi if he emerged as the ultimate winner in Thursday's elections. "We are warning now: We will raise our weapons as we did before if the Baathists come to power again,'' said Haidi Amery, leader of the Badr Organization, which now describes itself as a political movement.

"First of all, I'm not a Baathist," Allawi said Wednesday after earlier declaring, "I hate Saddam for what he did to Iraq."

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