Global Policy Forum

Jaafari, Iraq's Most Likely Next PM,


By Charles Onians

Agence France Presse
February 22, 2005

Ibrahim Jaafari, who was selected Tuesday as the chosen candidate for prime minister by the Shiite list that won Iraq's election, is a religious Shiite who believes in modernising Islam. Jaafari, currently one of two largely ceremonial vice presidents, has been picked by the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance list that swept to power with 48 percent of the vote in the January 30 election and secured 140 seats in the new National Assembly. His Hezb al-Dawa al-Islamiyya (Islamic Call Party) quickly re-established itself in the southern Shiite heartland after the March 2003 US-led invasion and many expected him to take what they see as his natural place. In August 2003, he became the first chairman of the US-appointed and now-defunct Governing Council, and has since remained largely on the sidelines of public debate.

But an opinion poll published last year ranked the 54-year-old as the third most influential public figure in Iraq, behind Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani -- who blessed the winning list -- and radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr. Dawa is the oldest Shiite party in Iraq. It advocates Islamic reform and modernising religious institutions, while enjoying the prestige of its past resistance to Saddam Hussein's regime. Dawa started carrying out attacks against Baath officials in the 1970s and fully embarked on an armed struggle in the early 1980s, when Jaafari fled to Iran before moving to London in 1989. Dawa membership was then punishable by death and the party says no less than 77,000 of its members were killed under Saddam.

Since returning to Iraq, his party has become a leading political force and Jaafari the 'people's choice'. As one of few Shiite politicians who command wide respect among Sunni Muslims, Jaafari has gone out of his way to allay fears that Shiites would seek to impose their will on the country's other communities once in power. "If we win, we will rule as Iraqis, not as Shiites only... and we will include other communities," Jaafari said recently.

Some of his detractors accuse him of being corrupt, having shadowy ties with Iran and being a proponent of a conservative Islam hampering women's rights. Yet his exact policies should he get Iraq's top job remain unclear. When talks were under way last February over the drafting the fundamental law which serves as Iraq's interim constitution, Jaafari was among those champions who favoured Islam as the only source of legislation.

But he has distanced himself from a hard line. "Secularism originally meant opposing God and religion. Now it is not the same. Islam has changed too. It is different from country to country," he said earlier this month. "It is true that some countries stop women from attending schools and others do not let women drive. For me that would be a problem. It would be logical to mention Islam in the constitution. But it does not have to resemble Iran."

One foreign observer said he may change his political tune once in office. "The question is to what extent he will allow, or be pressured into allowing, his social conservatism to seep into his politics, specifically with regard to the role of Sharia (Islamic law)," he said.

"His Islamist inclinations may be offset, however, by the secular sentiments of a possible majority in Iraq, including within his own United Iraqi Alliance," he said.

Despite having been one of the first to organise demonstrations opposing the presence of US-led troops on Iraqi soil, earlier this month he admitted their necessity -- for the time being. "Despite their presence here in Iraq, terrorism exists," Jaafari said. "Can you imagine what will happen if we ask them to leave? This could mean the beginning of a civil war." Improving security -- so Iraq can ask foreign troops to leave -- and forming a government that can satisfy the aspirations of the Sunni minority, will be two key tasks for the next government, he said.

More Information on Iraq
More Information on Leaders and Occupiers in Iraq
More Information on Iraq's Government
More Information on Occupation and Rule in Iraq


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.