Iraqi Money Flows

Posted February 23, 2004 at 6:40pm

Several well-heeled Iraqis who hope to play central roles in Iraq’s emerging government have launched lobbying campaigns in Washington to influence the Bush administration and Congress as they work to shape a permanent government in Iraq.

The group of Iraqis, which include three members of the U.S.-created Iraqi Governing Council, are spending as much as $100,000 per month on lobbying firms and public relations agents to press U.S. officials to create a modern, democratic government that is not dominated by Islamic conservatives.

“It’s like they are running for president,” said one U.S. official of the competing public relations efforts in Washington.

The three Iraqis began their public relations efforts in Washington more than a decade after another Iraqi member of the Iraqi Governing Council — Ahmed Chalabi — began cultivating close ties to now-Vice President Cheney and other key administration officials.

According to forms filed with the Justice Department, Ayad Allawi, a member and former president of the Iraqi Governing Council, has begun an expensive lobbying and public relations effort to press U.S. officials to build a modern democratic government that builds on Iraq’s existing foundations.

Allawi has already paid more than $300,000 to Washington firm Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds LLP to help open doors on Capitol Hill and at the White House.

Allawi also hired a former U.S. ambassador to coordinate his Washington effort and a New York advertising firm that once worked for the Beatles to manage his image in the United States.

The public relations effort, which could top $1 million this year, is funded by Mashal Nawab, an Iraqi-born physician who is a “close friend and admirer” of Allawi, according to the Justice Department forms.

Adnan Pachachi, another member and former president of Iraq’s interim government, has also signed up a Washington public relations firm to help him get his message across to the Bush administration and Congress.

F. Wallace Hayes, working on a pro bono basis for now, will write press releases for the 70-year-old Pachachi that “promote democracy in Iraq,” according to the Justice Department forms.

Meanwhile, Baqir Jabor, an Iraqi exile appointed by the United States to run Iraq’s housing and construction department, has asked former Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.) and his influential Washington lobbying firm to help arrange a series of meetings with the Bush administration during his upcoming visit to the United States.

Officials at Livingston Group said Jabor is not a formal client of the firm. Other details of Livingston’s work with Jabor are not yet available because Jabor first asked Livingston for help only last month.

The new public relations campaigns in Washington come as the Bush administration struggles to complete an interim constitution for Iraq by the end of the month in order to turn control of the government over to Iraq this year.

In the past few days, it has become clear that the United States will fail to meet both deadlines.

Over the weekend, the Kurds in northern Iraq — which comprise 20 percent of the country — rejected key parts of the constitution. Meanwhile, Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator in Iraq, acknowledged last week that it is unlikely that Iraq will be able to hold an election for at least another year.

By hiring lobbyists in Washington, the Iraqi leaders hope to one day play a central role in the emerging government.

The Iraqis who have hired lobbyists are each former exiles who want the United States to create a democratically elected government.

Iraq’s Shiites make up as much as 60 percent of the country and are better organized than their political and ethnic rivals, the Kurds and the Sunnis.

The leader of Iraq’s Shiite conservatives, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, hopes to schedule quick elections, knowing that he and his allies would dominate the government if elections are held soon.

Allawi, Jabor and Pachachi share another rival in Chalabi. But unlike the Iraqi newcomers to Washington, Chalabi has worked for years in Washington cultivating friendships with key players like Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle.

Since 1986, Shea & Gardner has represented Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress in Washington for about $10,000 a month. One of the partners at Shea & Gardner is James Woolsey, the former CIA director.

Chalabi also gets help from Francis Brooke, a political consultant, and Riva Levinson of BKSH & Associates, the Washington firm founded by Charles Black, a longtime ally of President Bush.

Those contacts have paid off: At this year’s State of the Union address, Chalabi sat in the VIP box with first lady Laura Bush.

Chalabi also was one of the few Iraqis permitted to meet face to face with Saddam Hussein in his cell in the hours after his capture in late December.

Chalabi has long been considered the favorite of Defense Department officials to lead Iraq’s new government.

However, his star appears to be fading as Pentagon officials question some of the military intelligence he provided before the war and as Iraqis increasingly view Chalabi as a pawn for the United States.

Meanwhile, the State Department is thought to favor Pachachi, while the CIA backs Allawi. His main opponent in Washington is thought to be Chalabi, a distant relative.

Though Chalabi and Allawi both oppose an Iraqi government run by Islamics, they split over the structure of a new secular government.

Chalabi would like to rid the country of anything to do with Hussein’s Baath Party, while Chalabi — a member of the Baath Party before it was hijacked by Hussein in the 1970s — believes the new government should be built upon the existing foundations.

“There are options available to make use of the civil structures that are available in Iraq rather than throwing everything out,” said R. Paul Stimers of Allawi’s lobbying firm, Preston Gates.

Allawi, a neuroscientist by training, survived a vicious assassination attempt in the late 1970s when Hussein allies tried to axe him to death in his sleep. He later became a source of important — and sometimes suspect — intelligence information to the CIA.

After the war, he was appointed to the interim Iraqi Governing Council and tapped to take charge of security for the country.

In Washington, Allawi and his British benefactor last fall hired Patrick Theros, a former U.S. ambassador to Qatar, to build his base of support among key Members of Congress and the Bush administration.

Theros runs a consulting firm, Theros & Theros, with his wife and son out of their home in a leafy section of Northwest Washington.

With a total monthly budget that began at $122,000, Allawi brought on New York public relations agency Brown Lloyd James Ltd. — a firm that once represented the Beatles — for $12,500 a month.

For lobbying work, Allawi tapped Washington lobbying shop Preston Gates for $100,000 a month, though the firm has since lowered its monthly retainer to less than $50,000.

According to contracts filed with the Justice Department, the firms will help Allawi “gain U.S. government support for his policy suggestions for Iraq” by “explain[ing] his views on the security and political situation in Iraq.”

Theros, who is making about $10,000 a month from Allawi, plans to attend “public forums, seminars, events and meetings which represent an opportunity” to express Allawi’s ideas.

Allawi’s lobbying effort was expected to end this spring when the United States was expected to hand control over the government to Iraq.

But with the prospects of meeting that deadline dim, the lobbying and public relations campaign is expected to continue.