Did Iraq Just Elect a Mass-Murderer?
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We can’t know whether the new Iraqi prime minister, Ayad Allawi, murdered six restrained men in cold blood while a mix of Iraqi and American guards looked on in shock.
What we do know is that Allawi was alleged to have committed the gruesome crime just before the “hand-over” of the government to Iraqi nationals in 2004 (he served as interim prime minister in Iraq’s transitional government). The allegations were made by an award-winning journalist in a major mainstream publication -- Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald -- relying on two sources who confirmed details of the event independently of one another.
We also know that the American media, with few exceptions, killed the story entirely. The few outlets that alluded to the charges did so with such a degree of skepticism -- essentially accepting official denials (and half-denials) as the end of the matter -- as to render it virtually meaningless.
As a result, in 2004, with debate over the invasion of Iraq front and center around the world, the American public got a far different picture of the conflict -- and the leaders George W. Bush installed in the fledgling Iraqi government -- than the people of every other English-speaking country in the world.
Here’s how Paul McGeough broke the story in the Herald, Australia’s leading daily:
Iyad Allawi, the new Prime Minister of Iraq, pulled a pistol and executed as many as six suspected insurgents at a Baghdad police station, just days before Washington handed control of the country to his interim government, according to two people who allege they witnessed the killings.
They say the prisoners -- handcuffed and blindfolded -- were lined up against a wall in a courtyard adjacent to the maximum-security cell block in which they were held at the Al-Amariyah security centre, in the city's south-western suburbs.
They say Dr Allawi told onlookers the victims had each killed as many as 50 Iraqis and they "deserved worse than death".
The Prime Minister's office has denied the entirety of the witness accounts in a written statement to the Herald, saying Dr Allawi had never visited the centre and he did not carry a gun.
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, then Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that while he personally found the allegations "unbelievable," he also thought that, “because they are written by a credible journalist, [then-Foreign Minister Alexander] Downer's responsibility is to get the truth from the Australian embassy in Baghdad and from the government of the United States. It's important that these matters are clarified.”
In the UK, there were also calls for an inquiry. “It is vital that [the allegations] are cleared up one way or another and that needs an independent inquiry,” said former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who resigned his cabinet post over the Iraq war.
Those calls went unheeded. Allawi was cleared of the charges in an investigation conducted by the subsequent Iraqi government under the auspices of President Ibrahim Al-Jafari. But that came during a period of unprecedented political upheaval and violence, and Allawi remained an influential MP in that government; his party, the Iraq National Accord, was the leading party in the Iraqi National List, which in turn was a key part of the governing coalition of Nouri al-Maliki at the time. Both the Iraqi government and the American forces in Iraq had every imaginable incentive to sweep the charges under the rug.
While Allawi strenuously dismissed the charges, reports at the time suggested that rumors of the killings swirling around Baghdad actually enhanced Allawi’s reputation in some quarters as a strong leader who had the backbone to tame the insurgency then raging at full steam.