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Daunting tasks will test skills of ‘outsider’ Allawi

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Prime Minister Iyad Allawi places hand on the Quran as he is sworn in during ceremony in Baghdad. President Ghazi Al-Yawer is at left.

Prime Minister Iyad Allawi places hand on the Quran as he is sworn in during ceremony in Baghdad. President Ghazi Al-Yawer is at left.

David Guttenfelder, Associated Press

BAGHDAD, Iraq — Iyad Allawi, the prime minister who took power in Iraq on Monday, is dismissed by militant Shiites and Sunnis as a puppet of the Americans. To many Iraqis, he is an out-of-touch "outsider" who has no popular base.

One thing is certain though: The CIA-linked opposition leader-turned-politician seems determined to do everything he can to restore security, including use of some tactics that hark back to Saddam Hussein's days.

The challenge facing Allawi, 58, is twofold: to win the acceptance and cooperation of a mostly skeptical population and to deal with a ruthless and increasingly sophisticated insurgency.

"This government will act randomly like the Governing Council before it," said Khaled Mohammed, a 42-year-old taxi driver.

"It is appointed by the occupier, who does not want anything good to come to our people," he said, speaking from a long line outside a gas station.

"This is a temporary and illegal government," said Shiite cleric Moussa al-Nagi. "Yes, Iyad Allawi is a Shiite, but he is not an Islamist, and his thoughts and aspirations have nothing to do with Shiites or Sunnis."

Such sentiments are not uncommon in a nation where many blame the Americans for their daily hardships, the precarious security of the past year and what they see to be the imposition of politicians like Allawi, who was in exile for 30 years before returning to Baghdad last year.

Even after his return, he has spent much of the past year traveling abroad — so Iraqis have had little chance to get to know the one-time exile opposition leader.

Allawi has been projecting an image of strength and resolve in his public appearances since being named to his post at the beginning of June.

"We will ensure the safety of our people, and we will ensure safety of the country," Allawi said in a firm tone of voice when asked about the first thing his government will do.

When reminded by a reporter of the failure of the U.S. military with all its might to suppress the insurgency in more than a year of combat, he said: "The most powerful military helped us in liberating our country and we are very grateful.

"The security of our country and our lives is in our hands . . . we have measures that will be declared today and tomorrow to enhance and ensure our security."

Allawi has said his government will pass new laws giving security forces a stronger hand in arrests and allowing them to impose curfews.

He is also planning to recall to active service units of the disbanded Iraqi army to help with the fight against the insurgents.

Such a move could have benefits on two fronts: acquiring the service of seasoned soldiers and depriving insurgents of their expertise. Many army officers — disenfranchised and embittered by their post-Saddam unemployment — are known to have been advising insurgents in combat tactics.

Saddam's 400,000-strong army was disbanded in May last year by L. Paul Bremer, the American governor of Iraq who handed power to Allawi on Monday. Allawi says he opposed the disbanding, which is widely thought to have prompted noncommissioned and junior officers to join the guerrillas.

Allawi also made other overtures to the army on Monday. He said he would "restore the dignity" of the army, retrain soldiers for civilian jobs or offer them "retirement with dignity and honor."

The often-frowning Allawi coupled his gesture to the army with a strongly worded appeal to former members of Saddam's Baath party, also disbanded by Bremer last year, not to cooperate with Saddam loyalists and to inform authorities of their activities.

Allawi, who was once a senior Baath party member and was later the target of an assassination attempt by Saddam agents that left him hospitalized for months, is known for his pragmatism.

He has said that his CIA links were nothing to be ashamed of since he used them to get rid of Saddam. But for a nation bred on hatred of the United States and sees the acronym CIA as a symbol of evil, it may not be easy for Allawi to explain away those links so easily.

In Fallujah, a turbulent Sunni city west of Baghdad, fighters have an anecdote they share with visitors to show their resentment of the "outsiders" like Allawi.

Soon after U.S. Marines lifted a three-week siege of the city in April, six trucks carrying electrical domestic appliances arrived in Fallujah. On the side of one truck was a banner that read: "A gift from Dr. Iyad Allawi to the people of Fallujah."

The mujahedeen, or Muslim holy warriors, intercepted the convoy and asked the drivers to turn around and head back for Baghdad. The drivers insisted they be allowed to reach the mayor's office.

"We told them: 'You can do that, but we will burn your trucks there' and they quickly left," recalled one fighter, Waiel Sarhan, who said he witnessed the incident.