The Plan to Tweak Iraq's Elections

Senior news analyst Daniel Schorr writes about proposed U.S. efforts to influence the recent election in Iraq. The plans, which officials insist they abandoned, are detailed in a report by Seymour Hersh in this week's New Yorker magazine.

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DANIEL SCHORR:

President Bush has often hailed the Iraqi election of January 30th as a triumph for democracy. But now it turns out that the election didn't turn out quite the way he hoped.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr.

SCHORR: Seymour Hersh writes in the current New Yorker magazine that the administration, concerned about Iranian influence with the Iraqi Shiites, favored the slate controlled by then acting Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite and strong ally of America. The idea of trying to influence the election came up several times. Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Authority, was warned by an adviser, Larry Diamond, that the Iraqis, new to contested elections, would steal and stuff the ballot box. At one point, the White House came up with the idea of a presidential finding. That is a document signed by the president, shared with the congressional intelligence committees, that authorizes the president to fund a covert operation that he certifies to be in the national security interest. The finding originated in the mid-'70s as a way of controlling clandestine CIA operations. It was the device used by President Reagan, in his case retroactively, to authorize otherwise illegal arms shipments to Iran and aid to the Nicaraguan Contras.

The law requires that the president inform congressional intelligence committees of plans for covert actions in advance and in timely fashion. Backing a candidate in a foreign election would qualify as a covert operation. Apparently, opposition arose in one of both of the congressional intelligence committees, whose proceedings are highly secret. And according to Hersh, whenever the idea of covert intervention in the election came up, the president said, `We will not put our thumb on the scale.'

But the Bush administration had reason for concern about the election. Allawi got no position in the postelection government. Ibrahim Al-Jafari became prime minister. And one of his first actions was to sign several agreements with Iran. This is Daniel Schorr.

ROBERT SIEGEL (Host): This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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