Saturday, July 08, 2006

Breakfast with Iyad Allawi (Kurdistan, Pt. II)

At 0900 the next morning we met in the dining room around a large table filled with bread, cheeses, walnuts, various jams, honeycombs (actual beeswax and honey, not the cardboardish American breakfast cereal), and bowls of yogurt. Attendants served cheese omelets to each of the guests. Between the Ambassador, former PM Iyad Allawi, and myself, the conversation naturally steered toward Arab politics.

Allawi is a large man, with a round face and broad chest (that was once the recipient of an axe wielded by Saddam's hitmen. His wife survived the attack, but had a nervous breakdown from which she never recovered). Politically, Allawi still advocates Pan-Arabism, an emphasis on rule of law to fight corruption, and matter of factly declares that "Democracy will not work in the Middle East." It is easy to understand how he was a Ba'athist before Saddam turned the party into a genocidal cult of personality.

Yet whereas Massoud Barzani is spry, and has a face full of joy, Allawi constantly bears a look of weary resignation. Deep down, he likely recognizes that both his vision of Iraq as the leader of a Pan-Arabist/Socialist bloc in the Middle East, as well as his moment to lead Iraq towards this future, are both dreams that have come and gone. The sad expression he carries is symbolic of the fate of a previous generation of Arab intellectuals' aspirations.

After breakfast we gather our bags and load into a convoy of 20-30 Toyota Land Cruisers for what we are told will be a three hour drive to Massoud Barzani's retreat in the mountains. Instead, we ended up taking what turned out to be the deluxe tour of Irbil province. But more on that later . . .