BAGHDAD – From secular, well-educated Shi’ites to in-love-with-the-West Kurds, from Christians suffering ethnic cleansing to even some moderate Sunnis, Iraqis terrified by the current carnage are more and more inclined to turn to former premier Iyad Allawi as the only possible solution.

“We need a strongman,” said Hamoodi, a young Kurd from Sulaymaniah who got his visa approved and will continue his medicine studies in the US state of Michigan; he does not plan on coming back. There’s a virtual consensus among people in Baghdad that security under Allawi’s interim premiership was relatively good, deteriorated under Ibrahim al-Jaafari and reached nightmarish levels under the present administration of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Allawi used to be referred to in Baghdad as “Saddam without a mustache.” The ex-Ba’athist and former darling of US and British intelligence also became “the butcher of Fallujah” after ordering the massive assault on the Sunni resistance stronghold in November 2004. Not to mention his push against Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s followers in Najaf, also in 2004. But the civil war has enhanced his popular perception as non-sectarian. The true measure of the overwhelming Iraqi tragedy is that people in Baghdad are now yearning for an ersatz Saddam Hussein.

There have been insistent rumors in Baghdad of a US-inspired “white coup” in Parliament to finish off Maliki’s ineffective government and install Allawi as the new prime minister. To this end Allawi is even talking to the Sadrists. Ibtisan al-Awadi, a former member of Parliament for the Iraqi List, which has four ministers, is the negotiator in charge.

The development is quite surprising, considering the extremely strained relationship between Allawi and Muqtada because of the attack on Najaf. But the fact is nobody at the moment – except for the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and the Da’wa Party – seems to be supporting Maliki. Popular perception in Baghdad among educated urban Shi’ites also rules that politicians from Da’wa are generally well educated, but those from SCIRI are mostly appalling.

Azat al-Shabander is Allawi’s spokesman. He told Asia Times Online, “We have good relations with all the political parties against the government. There are also a great deal of armed groups who have abandoned their weapons and prefer peace. We are in favor of no loyalty to Iran. This is the big difference between us and the governments of Jaafari and Maliki.”

As things stand, Shabander likes to emphasize that “the US supports Maliki. [President George W] Bush has said it many times. This is clear.” But Shabander also made a point that “the US did not privilege anybody during these four years, nor interfered.” What would make Allawi a better prime minister than Maliki? “He is known as the director of a national, and not confessional, project. This puts him in a very comfortable position.”

Allawi, said Shabander, “Strongly condemns the Shi’ite political parties who suffer interference from Iran. True Iraqi Shi’ites don’t accept this intervention.” He said Allawi has “good relations” with Saudi Arabia, although is always vigilant because “sometimes they [Saudis] support religious parties here with a lot of money.” This an oblique reference to Wahhabi support for the Sunni Arab resistance.

Allawi has been to Saudi Arabia building alliances – unlike Maliki, who has been snubbed by King Abdullah. Allawi travels as much as most Iraqi politicians, who spend most of their time in Cairo, Amman, Damascus or, for that matter, London. Not bad for a hefty US$15,000-a-month salary. During recent festivities, members of Parliament received “gifts” to the tune of almost $60,000 each.

Shabander sounded like an Israeli politician when he argued Allawi’s point for defending the Adhamiyah wall that is being built by US forces to separate Sunnis and Shi’ites. “This is not a wall; it’s a partition barrier that the security forces find useful for controlling who enters and who exits a dangerous zone. It’s not an isolated wall. People who are against the wall are just blowing it out of proportion.” This “against the wall” crowd happens to include the population of Adhamiyah itself.

Shabander stressed that Allawi “hopes the US establishes good relations with all other countries in the region to the benefit of Iraq” – a message that obviously concerns US-Iran relations.

A new non-sectarian coalition may be emerging in Iraq against the current Shi’ite/Kurd majority government, and that coalition might be led by Allawi. As Shabander never tires to point out, “We have cooperation with all national groups.”

“Saddam without a mustache” is convinced he’s the right man for the intractable job. So is Washington.