|Iraq looks to
By Valentinas Mite and
The final pieces of the
puzzle are in place, 10 weeks after Iraq' s
historic elections of January 30.
Former Kurdish guerrilla
leader Jalal Talabani, 71, has been sworn
in for the largely ceremonial post of
president, becoming the first non-Arab to hold the
position in an Arab state.
after his inauguration, Islamist Shi'ite leader
Ibrahim Jaafari, who opposed Saddam Hussein for
decades in exile, was officially appointed prime
minister. The prime minister's position is the
most powerful one in the new government.
Talabani's ceremony took place in
Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, in front
of hundreds of lawmakers and religious and
political leaders. Talabani proposed an amnesty
for insurgents and called for reconciliation with
the country's former Sunni elite.
politician Adel Abd al-Mahdi, who was finance
minister in the outgoing government, and former
interim president Ghazi Ajil al-Yawer, who is a
Sunni, were sworn in as vice presidents. The three
comprise the Presidential Council, which
immediately named Jaafari - a member of the 60%
Shi'ite Arab majority - prime minister.
Parliament Speaker Hajim al-Hasani, a
Sunni, said outgoing prime minister Iyad Allawi
had turned in his resignation, but was asked to
conduct the day-to-day work of the government
until a new cabinet is named.
appointments cement the power shift that has taken
place in Iraq following the toppling of the
Sunni-dominated regime of Saddam. Shi'ites and
Kurds effectively run the country, after being
oppressed for decades.
Jaafari has two
weeks to pick his cabinet, including the crucial
posts of defense minister and oil minister. The
new government faces many other tough issues.
Lawmakers must draft a permanent
constitution by mid-August. There is also the
future of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and the task
of getting Iraq's national army up to speed.
Kamran al-Karadaghi, an expert on Iraq who
works at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting
in London, said he believes the weeks following
the January 30 elections in Iraq mark a milestone
in the country's transformation.
all the difficulties in Iraq - the insurgency, the
security situation - despite all the attempts to
instigate a Sunni-Shi'ite civil war, nothing of
this happened," Karadaghi said. "No matter how
difficult it is, the Iraqi groups are really
managing to cooperate and to work together - with
delays, with problems, with differences. But in
the end, they are all capable of finding a kind of
consensus among themselves."
hard man to pin down
Jaafari has a long
history of resisting the Ba'athist regime of
Born in 1947 in a Shi'ite holy
city, Karbala, south of Baghdad, Jaafari earned a
medical degree from Mosul University in 1974 and
joined the Islamist Da'wa Party in the 1960s. In
the 1970s, Da'wa fought a bloody campaign against
Saddam's regime, during which many were killed or
forced to leave the country.
"He was very
active in Iraq, he was jailed, and he fled Iraq in
the 1980s," said Karadaghi. "He went to Iran, then
he left Iran and settled in London for the last
maybe seven years."
Many Iraq observers
say it will be difficult to predict how Jaafari
might act as prime minister. That is partly
because he is a difficult figure to characterize
politically or ideologically.
years in exile, Jaafari strongly opposed Saddam,
but never publicly supported an Iranian-style
"People who know him for
example say that he doesn't support this concept
of vilayat-i faqih [governance of the
jurist], but he never says this publicly,"
Karadaghi said. "There is a kind of vagueness
Karadaghi said that many
politicians in Iraq think Jaafari is not as modern
as he seems and fear that he might try to push for
a greater role for religion in the country.
In the elections, the Islamist Da'wa Party
ran as one of the main players on the broad
Shi'ite List, the United Iraqi Alliance, with the
backing of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
However, Karadaghi pointed out, Jaafari
was one of the first Iraqi Shi'ites who cooperated
with the US before and after the toppling of
Jaafari held the largely
ceremonial post of vice president in the US-led
caretaker government and was a member of the now
defunct US-appointed interim Governing Council.
Also, Jaafari has not called for the withdrawal of
US troops from Iraq.
Although hard to
characterize, analysts said Jaafari is a skilled
political player who has the ability to unite the
Many Iraq watchers said
that Jaafari was one of several Shi'ite
politicians who command wide respect among Iraq's
alienated Sunni Arab minority.
Lindley-French, a Geneva-based security analyst,
said Jaafari was the best choice for prime
minister. "He's the candidate that is most likely
to ensure that all three major groupings are
prepared to do some pragmatic work on the new
constitution," French said. French said that
Jaafari had the chance to keep "some degree of
order" and move the country out of the situation
it is in now.
However, Yahia Said, a
researcher specializing in Iraq and other
transitional nations at the London School of
Economics, said Jaafari would have a difficult
job. "He will have a lot of challenges ahead of
him," Said said. "Especially dealing with the
fractious parliament, groups such as Kurds and
groups associated with Allawi, who will probably
resist his policy proposals."
later moved to the United Kingdom in 1989. During
the Iraqi opposition's years of exile, he was
vocal in his belief that a democratic Iraq should
not emulate an Iranian-style theocracy. At the
time, he also stood against US or international
intervention in Iraq, preferring instead for an
Iraqi-led toppling of the regime.
told London's al-Hayat in January 1999, "We view
the future of Iraq from an Islamic standpoint as
well as from the prism of our national values ...
We will do all we possibly can in order to be able
to knock out the dictatorship that had been
imposed on our people by Saddam and then go on to
supplant it with a constitution-based multiparty
system of government under which the people of the
nation must breathe freer and exercise their
inalienable right to put in place a government
that they should choose themselves."
Regarding ongoing US military activities
against the Saddam regime, Jaafari said in the
same 1999 interview that he believed such attacks
were designed "to take out our nation's economic
and civilian structure". "We do not and will not
tolerate such rocket attacks on our country. This
is terrorism pure and simple. It has brought on
our patient people the worst kind of woes and
torment and spread fear and panic."
viewed as a conciliator, Jaafari called in 1999
for disparate opposition parties to form a united
position against the Saddam regime, while
maintaining their distance from US attempts to
court the opposition. It was his belief at the
time that the involvement of any outside party in
the opposition's activities would affect the
opposition's ability to operate independently, and
potentially discredit its reputation inside Iraq.
Jaafari was also opposed to the sanctions regime,
which he said contributed to the Iraqi people's
suffering, rather than alleviating it.
That same year, Jaafari was also a
signatory to a letter published in London's Dar
al-Islam magazine that chastised the Iranian
regime for its treatment of Iraqis living in Iran.
The letter claimed that the regime's harassment
and expulsion of Iraqis called into question the
credibility of the Islamic Revolution in Iran and
its claim to be "a haven for the oppressed and
protector of the deprived in the world".
In January 2000, Da'wa Party spokesman
Muhammad Mahdi al-Asefi resigned after members of
the party's leadership rejected his call for the
appointment of a representative of Iranian Supreme
Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to the party's
political bureau. Jaafari told London's al-Zaman
in a January 25, 2000 interview that the party's
political leadership did not want to link itself
to the Islamic leadership in Iran.
al-Zaman a week later that Asefi "thinks that
there should be actual implementation of what
Khamenei thinks or what is thought by any person
who represents Khamenei in the various positions
of the party. This will ensure the relationship
between the post of velayat-e faqih and the
party post." The party rejected Asefi's proposal.
"In our opinion, the centralization or
decentralization of the Islamic state is an issue
that falls under Islamic jurisprudence and
thinking. This is based on determining the Islamic
rulings that allow or disallow the plurality of
the state," Jaafari said.
Jaafari stressed to al-Zaman that
Da'wa is "an Iraqi movement in the Iraqi arena".
He also emphasized his party's approach to
politics that many would later describe as
Jaafari's own style. "When Da'wa proposes a plan
or is a key partner to a plan ... [it] works on
expanding what is common between it and other
political parties, whether they are Islamists or
non-Islamists. It does this so as to ensure that
the desired [result] has a broad base of
agreement," he said.
By early 2002,
Jaafari was still opposed to a US overthrow of the
Saddam regime. As the Iraqi opposition worked with
the US administration to form working groups ahead
of a possible US-led invasion, the party
maintained its stance, saying a solution would not
come from abroad, but rather from inside Iraq,
al-Hayat reported on April 12, 2002.
Jaafari also voiced his skepticism over
plans for a major opposition conference in the
fall of 2002, telling London's al-Majallah in
October of that year that he believed the
conference's preparatory committee, which was made
up of opposition parties Iraqi National Congress,
Constitutional Monarchy Movement, Supreme Council
for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), Iraqi
National Accord, Kurdistan Democratic Party and
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, was undemocratic and
would, he predicted, dictate its recommendations
and decisions on the other Iraqi opposition
parties. He called for an expanded preparatory
committee that would reflect all trends in Iraqi
In reality, al-Sharq al-Awsat
reported on October 11, 2002, those groups opposed
to the conference were cautious of the Iraqi
National Congress' close relationship with the US
and the former's attempts to practice
custodianship over the other parties. The
conference was finally held in December 2002, with
Da'wa and several other groups boycotting
participation. Jaafari did begin a series of
meetings with US officials, however, while
continuing to express his reservations about a
Forming a transitional
When opposition parties began
discussions for the convening of a national
conference that might form a transitional
government in May 2003, Jaafari told al-Zaman that
"The [Da'wa] party calls for the formation of a
provisional Iraqi government consisting of a
diverse structure that represents the Iraqi street
... comprising all the political, ethnic and
denominational sectors of Iraqi society."
He later joined the US-appointed Iraqi
Governing Council in July 2003, and acted as the
council's first rotational president. In that
position, he initiated contact with Iraq's
neighbors, and helped form a constitutional
committee on the council. He was one of the first
to call for nationwide elections in Iraq, telling
csmonitor.com in December 2003, "Any elections are
better than none at all."
2004, Jaafari took the lead in trying to heal a
long-standing Shi'ite rift that reemerged between
SCIRI and rebel cleric Muqtada al-Sadr by calling
for a united stand. He adopted the principle of
federalism, telling Jeddah's Ukaz that month,
"Federalism will be a good thing if it safeguards
Iraq's unity and revolves around the sovereignty
and unity of Iraq's soil, skies, resources and
people ... Federalism does not violate our history
or our Islamic faith and beliefs. It should be
looked at objectively ..."
subsequently appointed interim vice president in
July 2004. He supported the need for a strong
security apparatus, and the imposition of martial
law as a necessity under the current security
environment. One of his principal tasks was
mediating the August standoff between
multinational forces and militants loyal to
Muqtada in Najaf.
Throughout the two years
since the fall of the Saddam regime, Jaafari has
proven himself to be a leader who seeks to be
inclusive. He has strong relations with Sistani,
but has not been one to kowtow to the ayatollah's
every demand. Jaafari stood in support of the
Transitional Administrative Law despite Sistani's
objection to it, and reportedly has been
criticized in recent months by some within the
religious establishment in Najaf for not taking a
firm Islamist stand on some issues.
Jaafari has said recently that if he was
prime minister he would work to include Sunnis in
the political process. "I believe we should
include them in the government," he said. "I
cannot imagine a government without Sunnis,
Shi'ites and Kurds because they are the three main
components of the Iraqi society."
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