The New York Times Plays High Stakes Iraqi Politics

Mowaffak al-RubaieThe New York Times just implicated Iraq’s Mr. Fix-it in the Saddam execution video debacle. Get ready for aftershocks.

In its report on Iraq’s alleged investigation into the Saddam execution, there is this startling passage:

As his aides announced that the events at the hanging would be the subject of an inquiry, one of the officials who attended the hanging, a prosecutor at the trial that condemned Mr. Hussein to death, said that one of two men he had seen holding a cellphone camera aloft to make a video of Mr. Hussein’s last moments — up to and past the point where he fell through the trapdoor — was Mowaffak al-Rubaie, Mr. Maliki’s national security adviser. Attempts to reach Mr. Rubaie were unsuccessful. The prosecutor, Munkith al-Faroun, said the other man holding a cellphone above his head was also an official, but he could not recall his name.

In one casual passage, the New York Times drops a bombshell.

Mr. al-Rubaie is not just anyone in Iraq. He is the link between the Americans and the Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani. He is also the go-between to Moqtada al-Sadr. He has been involved with the Dawa Party since its days as a major terrorist organization. In the 1980s, he was the Dawa Party’s international spokesman.

In 2004, when George W Bush visited Iraq he reached out to Ayatollah al-Sistani through Mr. al-Rubaie:

American officials in Iraq are well aware of al-Rubaie’s ability to navigate in both worlds; when President Bush landed in Baghdad for Thanksgiving dinner, clearly he’d been briefed. As al-Rubaie remembers their encounter, the president pointed at him and said, "Dr. al-Rubaie, I want you to convey this message to Mr. Sistani. Tell him that I pray to the same god he prays to… Tell Sistani I have nothing but praise for your religion. I have many millions of Muslims in my country back home."

Mr. al-Rubaie also was instrumental in getting Moqtada al-Sadr into the current Iraqi government. In 2004, Mr. al-Rubaie fell out with then Prime Minister Allawi over how to confront Moqtada al-Sadr:

The approach appears to be straining the Iraqi government as well. On Monday, the office of Ayad Allawi, the interim prime minister, said Mowaffak al-Rubaie, the national security adviser, had been relieved of his duties and replaced with a close ally of Dr. Allawi, Qassim Daoud.

The precise reasons for Dr. Rubaie’s dismissal were unclear, but he and Dr. Allawi disagreed sharply over how to quell the insurgency and, in particular, how to deal with Moktada al-Sadr, the rebel Shiite cleric. While Dr. Rubaie favors coaxing Mr. Sadr into the political mainstream, Dr. Allawi is demanding Mr. Sadr’s surrender first.

Mr. al-Rubaie has since played a crucial role in positioning the Dawa Party in the center of the Iraqi governmental pie. Last summer he wrote a Washington Post op-ed sketching out a "road map" for an American withdrawal from Iraq while leaving the keys with the Dawa Party.

In short, Mr. al-Rubaie is a powerful man in the current Iraqi government with all the right connections. If he is implicated in the Saddam execution fiasco, it will also implicate the Dawa Party and Ayatollah al-Sistani. If al-Rubaie falls, so falls the Dawa Party. With Maliki weakened and al-Sadr targeted by the Americans, this could be the beginning of a coup attempt in Baghdad. The only Shia party that can gain from such a coup is the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI).

Suddenly, Mr. Bush’s photo-op with Abdul Aziz al-Hakim comes into focus.

Update: The New York Times has removed the reference to Mr. al-Rubaie from the web edition of the article. The changed passage reads:

A prosecutor who attended the execution, Munkith al-Faroun, said he thought one of the invited witnesses had recorded the session on a cellphone, but he could not recall his name.

MSNBC reports that Mr. al-Faroun, who was quoted in the New York Times article, is now retracting his accusation:

On Wednesday, an Iraqi prosecutor who was also present at the execution denied a report that he had accused National Security Adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie of possible responsibility for the leaked video. “I am not accusing Mowaffak al-Rubaie, and I did not see him taking pictures,” Munqith al-Faroon, a prosecutor in the case that sent Saddam to the gallows, told The Associated Press. “But I saw two of the government officials who were … present during the execution taking all the video of the execution, using the lights that were there for the official taping of the execution. They used mobile phone cameras. I do not know their names, but I would remember their faces,” al-Faroon said in a telephone interview. … The New York Times on Wednesday reported that al-Faroon told the newspaper “one of two men he had seen holding a cell phone camera aloft to make a video of Mr. Hussein’s last moments up to and past the point where he fell through the trapdoor was Mowaffak al-Rubaie, Mr. Maliki’s national security adviser.” The Times said it had been unable to reach al-Rubaie for comment. AP also could not reach him Wednesday. His secretary said the security adviser, a close aide to al-Maliki, was in Najaf and would not return until later.

The plot thickens.


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5 Responses to The New York Times Plays High Stakes Iraqi Politics

  1. Alfredo says:

    Yet, according to The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman, in his op-ed piece of today,

    [the execution of Saddam is] the culmination of a constitutional process in which America should be proud to have participated.

    In Friedman’s eyes, the controversy with Saddam’s execution involve only the events that took place on day of the hanging — the choice of date, the taunting by his guards. I find it rather odd that an alleged expert on Middle Eastern affairs would hold such a narrow and myopic view. But then again, he is most likely imbued with his Seeds-of-Democracy-in-the-Muslim-Desert Kool-Aid.

  2. Mash says:

    Alfredo, wait six months and call Friedman in the morning.

    I haven’t read his latest. Is he predicting that the next six months will be critical in Iraq?!? :d

    Friedman is, by the way, wrong on his facts. The trial and execution of Saddam was extra-constitutional. A “special” court was created to try Saddam to bypass the constitutional courts in Iraq. Friedman needs to ease up on the Kool-Aid and quit the flat-Earth society. \:d/

  3. MysticSaint says:

    the moment i watched the mobile video of saddam’s execution, i was thinking, who the hell allowed and who the hell video taped using mobile on such an event.

    the cheap mentality of private style video taping of saddam’s execution made me feel really sick. it deserves an investigation.

    this was no way of treating a human being.

  4. zazou says:

    Friedman is an ass- for fun check out the reaction to his latest snit fit at The Arabist ( In the interest of decency and justice, Saddam\\\’s execution needed to be shot, especially if there was nothing to hide. The second video with sound, proves there was something decidely not right about the whole thing and the chants of M. Al Sadr certainly queer the whole sorry incident.The State Department’s usual deniable plausibility stunt is coming undone, and if Mash is right, the only one demonstrating any dignity (I guess it\\\’s never too late to start…) at the execution was the executee himself. What an abysmal state of affairs.

  5. Group Captain Mandrake says:

    Excellent point zazou…in the end this looked to all the world like cheap winners’ revenge (especially given the “Moqtada” chants) instead of justice. It almost seems like the Shiite faction in the Iraqi government was doing EVERYTHING IN ITS POWER to escalate the civil war….maybe not so farfetched, since their population advantage might make them think civil war is their best option for consolidation of power at this point. And the only one who came out of the execution with some dignity was Saddam. How sad is that??? 🙁

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