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    Middle East
     Apr 9, 2005
Iraq looks to Jaafari
By Valentinas Mite and Kathleen Ridolfo

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.

Immediately 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.

Shi'ite 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.

The 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.

"Despite 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."

Jaafari: A hard man to pin down
Jaafari has a long history of resisting the Ba'athist regime of Saddam.

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.

During his years in exile, Jaafari strongly opposed Saddam, but never publicly supported an Iranian-style theocracy.

"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 about it."

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 Saddam.

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 fractious country.

Many Iraq watchers said that Jaafari was one of several Shi'ite politicians who command wide respect among Iraq's alienated Sunni Arab minority.

Julian 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."

Jaafari 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.

Jaafari 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."

Widely 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.

He told 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.

Consensual politics
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 society.

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 US-led invasion.

Forming a transitional government
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."

In February 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 ..."

Jaafari was 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."

Copyright (c) 2005, RFE/RL Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington DC 20036


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