Magazine article The Spectator

Meet the Next Saddam - Minus the Torture

Magazine article The Spectator

Meet the Next Saddam - Minus the Torture

Article excerpt


No one's elected him, he flourished as an army officer under Saddam Hussein's dictatorship, and by the strict standards set by Washington's neoconservative ideologues for turning Iraq into a beacon of Western democracy, General Mohan al-Furayji, the Iraqi commander in charge of Basra, should have no role to play in the country's reconstruction after decades of misrule.

Yet talk to anyone in Basra, whether Shia militiamen, Sunni tradesmen or British infantrymen, and all you hear is praise for the uncompromising way in which the new strongman of Basra has managed to impose something approaching order on a city that until recently was a byword for inter-factional Shia strife.

His rise to prominence began in the late summer when he was credited with negotiating a ceasefire between the warring Shia factions that were threatening to tip the city over the abyss into full-scale civil war. This in turn allowed British commanders charged with maintaining the peace in Basra to withdraw their beleaguered forces from the last remaining outpost at Saddam's former palace on the banks of the Shatt al-Arab waterway.

Even if this tactical redeployment had been under review for some months (it was originally planned for April, but delayed at the request of the Americans who were concerned it would send the wrong message), it was General Mohan, in the eyes of local Iraqis at least, who took all the credit.

Immediately after the British vacated the palace, Mohan took centre-stage, declaring, 'I have one goal, to bring security to Basra province.' Since then he has been as good as his word, presiding over a 70 per cent decrease in the city's murder rate in just a month.

Nor has Mohan been shy about declaring his nationalist credentials to his admiring Iraqi public. Taking his cue from General Sir Richard Dannatt, the Chief of the General Staff, who last year warned that the continued presence of British troops in Basra could exacerbate the security situation, Mohan not only predicted that the level of violence would fall dramatically the moment the British withdrew to the less visible confines of the air base on the city outskirts, but he publicly castigated his British overseers for not doing more to rebuild the country's infrastructure and deal with the unemployment crisis.

Mohan's abrasive style and fierce patriotism has inevitably drawn comparisons with the last Iraqi leader who was successful in subduing the Shia of southern Iraq -- Saddam Hussein.

But unlike the deposed dictator, Mohan is prepared to work with the West, not against it.

If only, it is tempting to think, people like Mohan had been allowed in the immediate aftermath of Saddam's overthrow to lend a hand tackling the country's lawlessness and impose order. There were very few Iraqis who were sad to see the back of Saddam, and giving the post-Saddam administration of the country an Iraqi complexion may well have helped to avoid the carnage of the past four years.

But that did not suit the neocon agenda, which actively sought the complete destruction of anything associated with the country's Baathist infrastructure, and the physical destruction of the country's government was accompanied by Paul Bremer's disastrous deBaathification programme.

Just how Mohan has slipped through the net to emerge as the new strongman of Basra is something of a mystery. Indeed, the man himself cultivates an enigmatic image, eschewing interviews and seeking to draw a discreet veil over precisely what he got up to during the Saddam era. …

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