.....when the US is resorting to paying private contractors to break corrupt officials out of prison for probable use as a mediator.
Stratfor: Morning Intelligence Brief - December 19, 2006
Geopolitical Diary: Al-Samarraie's Second Prison Break
Former Iraqi Electricity Minister Ayham al-Samarraie broke out of prison the afternoon of Dec. 17, reportedly with the help of an American security company operating in Baghdad. It was al-Samarraie's second prison break from the heavily fortified Green Zone in the past two months.
Why would a U.S. security contractor help an Iraqi convict twice break out of jail? There is no clear answer, but a few conclusions can be drawn.
Al-Samarraie served as electricity minister under former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's interim government. Before that, he worked in Chicago as a manager at KCI Engineering, where he built up strong ties to the Republican Party before returning to Iraq after the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion. The United States enlisted al-Samarraie in the fall of 2002 to help create a State Department-funded postwar strategy for Iraq.
Al-Samarraie also is a Sunni with Iraqi-U.S. citizenship who draws his roots from Anbar province, the main hotbed of Sunni insurgent violence, which made him an attractive candidate for a ministry position. He cultivated an extensive network with prominent Sunni tribe leaders in Anbar, and has worked with U.S. and Iraqi officials to co-opt Sunni nationalist insurgents into the political process.
But al-Samarraie also had dollar signs in his eyes when he took the ministry position. Despite his critical links to the Sunni nationalist insurgency, al-Samarraie was convicted on one of 13 corruption charges and sentenced to a two-year jail term in October. He still has to face an Iraqi court for the remaining 12 charges for pocketing approximately $1.5 billion from phony construction contracts, which could very well link back to his business buddies in Chicago. Al-Samarraie's contacts in Washington, however, apparently agreed to give him a "get-out-of-jail-free card" in October, when a few armed American security officials snuck al-Samarraie out of the courtroom through a tunnel from the basement of the building and into a safe house in the Green Zone. After he told Arab satellite stations that he was in U.S. custody, U.S. officials reportedly returned al-Samarraie to the Iraqi prison guards for unknown reasons.
Over the next couple months, al-Samarraie asked U.S. and Iraqi officials to release him, saying Shiite gunmen would kill him while in custody. Shiite militiamen apparently tried to kill him and Allawi, who lives next-door to al-Samarraie, in September 2005; a car bomb was found behind Allawi's house. A roadside bomb also went off in February near al-Samarraie's convoy in Baghdad, wounding three of his bodyguards. Even before he went to jail, al-Samarraie hired a private U.S. security contractor for protection.
After spending less than two months in prison, al-Samarraie's pleas for freedom were answered Dec. 17, when a group of American security officials arrived in two GMC vehicles at the jail where he was incarcerated, held jail guards at gunpoint and then whisked the convict away without firing a shot, said Judge Radhi Radhi, a senior anti-corruption official in Iraq.
Al-Samarraie is evidently still important enough for U.S. security contractors to get the go-ahead and break him out of prison once again. His prison break comes at a time when Washington is desperate for solutions to help alleviate the sectarian violence in Iraq and bring some semblance of control to a foreign policy blunder that has largely paralyzed the U.S. military and government. Al-Samarraie may be a crook, but he also is a key figure in the Sunni political bloc that could aid the Americans in getting the Sunnis on board with a deal to co-opt more Baathists into the political system.
Al-Samarraie could have been released as part of a political bargain with the Sunni political leadership, or as a means of re-enlisting him to act as a go-between for the Americans to deal with the Sunni insurgents. Either way, we cannot help but notice that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced on Monday that his government has decided to welcome back former Sunni Baathists who served in the Iraqi army under Hussein's rein. The reintegration of Sunni Baathists is a major concession for the Shiite-dominated and Iranian-influenced government to make, which has a logical interest in ensuring that Sunnis are prevented from reasserting themselves politically or militarily in post-Hussein Iraq. Nonetheless, it appears that the Shia have taken a big step forward by throwing out this concession to the Sunnis. And if Washington wants this latest attempt at a political resolution to bear fruit, it will have to enlist the aid of influential Sunni mediators, such as al-Samarraie.