December 5, 2005

Iraqi Poster Wars: U.S. Behind The Allawi Banner?


Last Thursday: Hot Off The Press

In a piece published in July entitled “Did Washington try to manipulate Iraq’s election?” (link), Seymour Hersch examines the role the U.S. played in Iraq’s first parliamentary election last January.  His article follows two threads.  One involves overt and covert U.S. support for the campaign of Ayad Allawi, who was interim Prime Minster at the time.  The other deals with alleged “improprieties” in the conduct of the election itself.

Over the past year, the examination of elections through the lens of campaign posters has been a regular feature of this site.  In the last parlimentary go-round, The BAG thought there was something suspicious “on it’s face” about the Allawi’s campaign (link).  In quality, his posters seemed highly sophisticated, with a style that looked decidedly Western.  At least from newswire photos, it seemed he also had an impressive number and variety of posters (not to mention, expertly constructed banners and billboards) which seemed to blanket Baghdad and other locales.

To solve the mystery of the Allawi visuals, one might look to U.S. funded organizations mandated to foster a U.S.-style political process in Iraq.  The most overt is the National Democratic Institute, currently headed by Madeline Albright.  According to a recent profile in WAPO, the organization not only provides all facets of campaign operation training, they also have “graphic artists standing by” along with a standing offer to all parties to supply 70,000 posters.  (Lest you think this is a large number, however, the SCIRI party turned down the benefit, saying they only print in batches of 100,000.)


If this visual help is provided to all comers, however, it doesn’t explain the exceeding sophistication of the Allawi enterprise.  Sy Hersh offers some ideas, however.  Allegedly,  the C.I.A. funneled considerable cash and assistance to Allawi in the previous election.  Although not expecting him to win, the idea was for him to siphon off enough support from religious Shi’ite parties (known for warm ties to Iran) to help offset their power.  With this goal in mind, Hersh reports how a woman named Margaret McDonagh, a Tony Blair operative, assumed a primary last-minute role in the Allawi campaign, particularly engineering a big-budget advertising blitz.

If Hersh’s story is accurate, it’s hard not to think the Bush Administration wouldn’t again be lending Allawi similar assistance.  In fact, it would make even more sense given the higher stakes and the fact the main Shi’ite coalition has lately encountered setbacks.

(image 1:  Mohammed Hato/A.P. December 1, 2005. Baghdad. YahooNews.  image 2: Susan Biddle/Washington Post. September 28, 2004. Washington.

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Michael Shaw
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