Pushing for a New Leader in Iraq

Ex-top Bush officials call for Maliki replacement; White House denies any link.

January 8, 2009, 1:07 AM

WASHINGTON, D.C., Aug. 24, 2007 — -- President Bush's former envoy to Iraq, Ambassador Robert Blackwill, is running a major behind-the-scenes lobbying push for former Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi — who seeks to remove and replace current Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki.

These efforts by a former national security aide are going on, despite an official White House policy to support the current Iraqi prime minister, with Bush adding his support for the leader this week — above the din of calls for Maliki's ouster — when he said, "Prime Minister Maliki is a good guy, a good man with a difficult job, and I support him."

Allawi, who lived in exile for decades in London, was essentially appointed interim prime minister by the Bush administration, though he was defeated in the 2005 Iraqi elections.

This week, he signed a contract for $300,000 for six months' work with the powerhouse Republican lobbying firm Barbour Griffith & Rogers to "provide strategic counsel and representation" for Allawi before the "U.S. government, Congress, media and others."

Blackwill, the firm's president, will lead the effort along with Ed Rogers, a former top White House aide to President George H.W. Bush. Others at the firm include a major Bush fundraiser, Lanny Griffith, and former top Bush administration officials, such as Philip Zelikow, a former adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

This week, before news of Allawi's contract with his firm broke, Zelikow told ABC News that Maliki had lost the confidence of the Iraqi political class.

"I think time is running out for Prime Minister Maliki to demonstrate to other Iraqis that he's going to be able to provide the necessary leadership in this process," Zelikow said. "I can confidently guess that our government is quietly speculating about a lot of different options, knowing how much concern Iraqis have about their leadership."

Today, the White House insisted it has nothing to do with Allawi's push for power.

"Far be it for me to judge why people sign contracts for whatever reason," said administration spokesman Gordon Johndroe. "I'm sure they have a desire to help out their client. But they're former administration officials. Administration policy remains unchanged."

Allawi was, until recently, funded by the CIA; it remains a mystery as to where Allawi is getting his money from to fund the lucrative contract with Barbour Griffith & Rogers.

It also remains an open question in this tale of Beltway intrigue what Allawi is getting for that money. Neither Allawi nor Barbour Griffith & Rogers agreed to comment to ABC News.

Stephanie Smith and Jon D. Garcia contributed to this report.

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