Key political players in Iraq
Last Updated January 3, 2007
Iraqis went to the polls on Dec. 15, 2005, to select the first fully constitutional parliament since 2003, the end of Saddam Hussein's 24-year reign. The winners were to replace an interim coalition government elected on Jan. 30, 2005, and led by Ibrahim al-Jaafari, of the Dawa party.
The official results, released in late January, gave 128 seats in the 275-seat National Assembly to the main Shia Muslim coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance. The alliance is made up of about 20 parties, but is dominated by the Dawa party, which had been pushing for unity among Shia Muslims, Sunni Muslims and Kurds.
Iraq's National Assembly has frequently been immobilized by power struggles between Shia Muslim, Sunni Muslim and Kurdish political groups.
However, the alliance was 10 seats short of the 138 needed to govern without coalition partners. It took another four months of disputes before the United Iraqi Alliance was able to woo enough Sunni Muslim and Kurdish politicians to form a coalition government — known as the "national unity" government. One of the key sticking points in negotiations was the position of prime minister. The Shias wanted al-Jaafari to return for a second term but Kurdish and Sunni Muslims politicians objected.
They finally reached a compromise. On April 22, 2006, Dawa party stalwart Nouri al-Maliki was nominated as prime minister-designate, with Sunni Muslim and Kurd politicians chosen to hold key positions in the government. The 37-member cabinet was sworn in on May 20, 2006, and is to govern for a four-year term.
However, it has struggled amid rising sectarian violence across the country, a continued insurgency led by Sunni Muslim militants, conflicts between Sunni, Shia and Kurdish politicians within the government and clashes with the United States.
Here are some key players:
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki
Head of government
Also known as Jawad al-Maliki, Nuri Kamil (Jawad) al-Maliki
Nouri al-Maliki, a Shia Muslim and the deputy leader of the Dawa party, was confirmed as Iraq's first full-term prime minister on May 20, 2006, replacing interim prime minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. Elected for a four-year term, he heads a "national unity" government with a cabinet made up of Shia Muslims, Sunni Muslims and Kurds.
Nouri al-Maliki, a Shia Muslim and Dawa party stalwart, has faced criticism that he is unable or unwilling to curb Shia attacks on Sunni Muslims. (Ceerwan Aziz/Associated Press)
Al-Maliki had been an important member for years in the Dawa party, one of the strongest members of the United Iraqi Alliance that won the most number of seats in the December 2005 election.
Born in a town of Baghdad in 1950, al-Maliki got a master's degree in Arabic language and literature from Baghdad University. He soon became involved in the Dawa party's armed resistance against the rule of Saddam Hussein and his Baathist party. In 1980, al-Maliki followed the lead of other Dawa leaders and fled into exile after Saddam's government sentenced him to death. He spent most of the exile in Syria before returning to Iraq in 2002.
Although al-Maliki hadn't held a cabinet post until being chosen as prime minister, he helped reshape Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam in 2003. A close ally of al-Jaafari — so much so that he wasn't initially thought to be an acceptable choice to replace him — al-Maliki is considered to be one of the more hard-line Shia politicians.
He was a member of a committee set up by the United States to purge Baathists from the government and civil service in 2003 and 2004. The move to "de-Baathification" is widely seen as one of the greatest mistakes in post-Saddam Iraq. Critics said it simultaneously drove out many competent people who joined the Baath party in the Saddam era simply to advance their careers — and delivered them into the arms of the insurgents.
Al-Maliki also helped draft the country's constitution, resisting U.S. efforts to get more Sunni Muslims involved and helping push through provisions that allow for the formation of semi-autonomous regions, something the Sunnis resisted because the country's oilfields are in Kurdish and Shia areas. He also served as a spokesman for both the Dawa party and the United Iraqi Alliance.
Since becoming prime minister, al-Maliki has struggled. He unveiled plans for "national reconciliation" in June and later a series of measures to boost security, including his announcement in December that the army has "opened its doors" to all former members of Saddam's army.
However, he has not been able to stop the sectarian violence that continued to rise in the capital and elsewhere, or check the insurgency against U.S. and Iraqi troops. Critics also said he had done little to reduce crime, boost employment or improve services for ordinary Iraqis.
By the end of 2006, al-Maliki was facing both growing criticism not only from Sunni and Kurdish members of his government, but even other Shia politicians. Among other things, he has been accused of making major decisions without trying to consult or get approval from other members of the coalition government.
Al-Maliki also clashed increasingly with Washington. He has accused the U.S. forces of focusing too much on Shia militant death squads and not enough on the former Baathists and other Sunni Muslim insurgents.
The United States, in turn, has accused al-Maliki of turning a blind eye to violence by Shia militants — including the Mahdi Army led by radical Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, based in Baghdad's Sadr City ghetto, and death squads operating within the government.
A White House memo leaked on Nov. 29 questioned whether al-Maliki was willing or able to quell the violence, while other reports indicated that U.S. President George W. Bush and his team were working behind the scenes to get al-Maliki replaced.
The leaked memo, by National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, said there were reports that the prime minister's office had intervened to stop military action against Shia targets and encouraged violence against Sunni ones, pruned military leaders along sectarian lines and tried to make sure every government ministry had a Shia majority.
It also noted that his grip on power depended in part on allies that were linked to al-Sadr's militia and other Shia militant groups.
On the other hand, Hadley said al-Maliki seemed to be trying to stand up to the "Shia hierarchy" and make positive changes. After the memo was leaked, a Bush spokesman insisted the president had full confidence in al-Maliki.
In an interview published with the Wall Street Journal on Jan. 2, 2007, al-Maliki said he would not seek a second term and wishes he could leave the job early.
President Jalal Talabani
Head of state
Jalal Talabani made history when he was selected to be Iraq's president on April 6, 2005, bringing its marginalized Kurdish minority into the country's government. Talabani was selected on April 22, 2006, to serve a second term as president after the Kurdish Alliance won the second-most number of seats, 43, in the December election. The Kurdish Alliance strongly supports autonomy for the northern Kurdish region.
Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, made history by bringing the marginalized Kurdish minority into the country's government. (Khalid Mohammed/Associated Press)
Talabani, who was born in 1933, is a politician and militia leader who led the Kurdish uprising against Saddam Hussein. He heads one of the main Kurdish political parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), founded in 1975. The party claims to be a modern, social-democratic party with a membership of nearly 150,000. After Saddam's government used chemical weapons against the Kurds in the 1980s during a military campaign named Operation Anfal, Talabani fled the country and lived in exile in Iran.
Since the early 1990s, he has played a key role in the development of the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq. His party had clashed for decades with the other main force in Iraqi Kurdish politics, the Kurdistan Democratic party (KDP), led by Massoud Barzani.
The two parties briefly put aside their animosities to form a coalition government in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War. However, it gave way to armed conflicts until the two parties agreed to peace in the late 1990s. Finally, before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, Talabani and Barzani teamed up to form the united alliance.
Both leaders were appointed to the Iraqi Governing Council after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
Vice-President Tariq al-Hashimi
Tariq Al-Hashimi was chosen by the largest Sunni Muslim bloc in the National Assembly — the Iraqi Accordance Front, which won 44 seats in the December 2005 election. He leads the Iraqi Islamic party, the biggest Sunni party in parliament.
Tariq al-Hashimi, who represents the largest Sunni Muslim bloc in the National Assembly, has opposed the move to create semi-autonomous regions in oil-rich Shia Muslim and Kurdish regions. (Mohammed Hato/Associated Press)
Like many Sunni Muslims, al-Hashimi has opposed the move to create semi-autonomous regions — which are largely in oil-rich Shia Muslim and Kurdish regions — and has urged that oil revenues be distributed according to population.
He also urged that former Baath party members who were purged from the government and military after Saddam's ouster be allowed to return. Al-Hashimi also wants the country's security forces to be purged of people who belong to Shia militias.
According to the U.S. Iraqi Study Group report released in December 2006, Shia death squads killed three of his siblings — including his sister, Mayson Ahmed Bakir al-Hashimi, the head of the women's affairs department for the party — in 2006.
The report also said al-Hashimi is one of two Sunni Muslim leaders who have broad support.
Vice-President Adel Abdul Mahdi
After the December 2005 election, Adel Abdul Mahdi was a prime contender to be nominated as the United Iraqi Alliance's choice for prime minister, but lost out first to Ibrahim al-Jaafari and later to Nouri al-Maliki. Instead, he was tapped to be one of Iraqi's two vice-presidents.
Adel Abdul Mahdi, who represents the largest and best-organized Shia Muslim political party in Iraq, earlier served as finance minister in Ibrahim al-Jaafari's interim government. (Khalid Mohammed/Associated Press)
Mahdi represents the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution (SCRIRI), which is the largest and best-organized Shia Muslim political party in Iraq. The party, which has close ties to Iran, has been pushing for a semi-autonomous Shia region made up of nine southern provinces. An economist by training, Mahdi earlier served as finance minister in al-Jaafari's interim government.
Born in Baghdad in 1949, he spent years working with the opposition in exile from France and returned to Iraq after the fall of Saddam's regime.
He is considered by many analysts to be a possible replacement as prime minister if al-Maliki steps down.
Parliamentary Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani
Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, a conservative Sunni Muslim and former medical officer in Saddam's army, was appointed as Speaker in April 2006.
Mahmoud al-Mashhadani has been an outspoken and controversial figure. Among other things, he chastised his fellow Sunni politicians for stalling measures that he felt could help ease sectarian violence. (Sabah Arar, Pool/Associated Press)
He belongs to the Iraqi Accordance Front, the Sunni Muslim coalition that won 44 seats in the December election.
An outspoken figure, al-Mashhadani aroused international controversy in July 2006, when he told a television station that the killings and abductions in Iraq were the fault of "Jews, Israelis and Zionists."
He has also clashed with his fellow Sunnis. In November, he called other Sunni legislators "villains" and "dogs" as he accused them of corruption and of stalling measures that could help end the sectarian clashes.
He narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in November 2005, when a bomb exploded at the back of an armoured car in Mahdi 's motorcade inside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone.
Iyad Allawi, legislator and former prime minister
Iyad Allawi, a Shia Muslim, was tapped to be the country's first prime minister after Saddam's ouster and continues to serve in the National Assembly.
Iyad Allawi served as the country's first prime minister after Saddam's ouster, but his secular Iraqi National Accordance party did not fare well in the 2005 elections.(Virginia Mayo/Associated Press)
He stayed out of the United Iraqi Alliance, preferring to lead his own Iraqi National Accordance party that was mainly Shia and secular. However, the party did not get many votes in the 2005 elections — in part because many Iraqis saw him as a puppet of the United States and because he used to belong to the Baath party.
He has spent a lot of time working on relations with Kurds and Sunni Muslims, positioning himself as someone who could potentially bridge some of Iraq's ethnic and religious divides.
Allawi, who came from a prominent Iraqi family, joined the Baath party when he was young but clashes with Saddam forced him to flee the country in the 1970s. He lived abroad for 30 years, until returning after Saddam's ouster.
He was appointed to the Iraqi Governing Council after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 and the council tapped him to be prime minister when the transitional government formed in 2005. However, he was replaced by Ibrahim al-Jaafari after the January 2005 election.
Ibrahim al-Jaafari, former prime minister
Ibrahim al-Jaafari, leader of the Shia Muslim Dawa party, was chosen as prime minister of Iraq's interim government after the United Iraqi Alliance swept the January 2005 election.
Ibrahim al-Jaafari served as prime minister after the January 2005 election, but Kurdish and Sunni politicians forced their Shia coalition partners to choose a different prime minister after the December election. (Mohammed Jalil, Pool/Associated Press)
The coalition again dominated the December election, but did not win a sufficient number of seats in the National Assembly to be able to govern without the support of some Kurdish and Sunni Muslim politicians. Although the Shias wanted al-Jaafari to serve a second term, the Kurds and Sunni Muslims balked.
Finally, al-Jaafari helped end the stalemate by stepping aside in April 2006 to allow the nomination of a fellow Dawa party member and close ally, Nouri al-Maliki.
Before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, al-Jaafari spent more than two decades in exile working with groups in Iran and Britain who opposed Saddam. He has close ties to the influential Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
- CBC INDEPTH: Ibrahim al-Jaafari
Important players outside the government:
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is the leading Shia Muslim cleric in Iraq. Born into a family of scholars, he studied in Iran before returning to Iraq in 1952 and was named grand ayatollah in 1992.
Ibrahim al-Jaafari served as prime minister after the January 2005 election, but Kurdish and Sunni politicians forced their Shia coalition partners to choose a different prime minister in 2006. (Mohammed Jalil, Pool/Associated Press)
For decades, al-Sistani followed the Shia position known as the "quietest tradition," which holds that a cleric should stay out of the day-to-day affairs and serve as an authority apart from politics.
It may have keep him alive during Saddam's reign — his predecessor died under house arrest — but al-Sistani weathered criticism from those who wanted a more active Shia resistance to Saddam's rule. Chief among these critics was the cleric Mohammad Sadeq al-Sadr, the father of Muqtada al-Sadr, who has become a popular radical Shia cleric who leads the militant group the Mahdi Army.
He left the political sidelines after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. At first, he called for Shia clerics to restrain from political involvement. However, he then criticized U.S. plans to hand over power to Iraqis in June 2004, calling for an election so Iraqis would have a say in the transitional government. His followers have held some of the biggest demonstrations seen since the 2003 invasion.
Since the 2005 elections, he has been one of the most influential Shia voices in the country. According to the U.S. Iraq Study Group report released in December 2006, his support and guidance has been sought by all major Shia leaders. He has urged that the Shia politicians stick together and steer a moderate course within a united Iraq.
However, the Iraq Study Group report also said al-Sistani's influence may be waning, as he hasn't been able to stop violence between Shias or attacks on Sunni Muslims.
Muqtada al-Sadr, a radical Shia cleric, leads an estimated 60,000 militants in the Mahdi Army, which has clashed with U.S., British and Iraqi forces, and been accused of widening the sectarian divides in the country by attacks on Sunni Muslims.
Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shia cleric who leads the Mahdi Army, has been blamed for many attacks on Sunni civilians. He has close ties to several Shia Muslim parties in the ruling coalition. (Alaa Al Marjani/Associated Press)
Al-Sadr emerged as a powerful force after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Although he wasn't yet finished his cleric's studies at the time, he inherited credibility from his father, Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, who was one of the most powerful Shia clerics in the country before being assassinated by Saddam's forces in the 1990s. The father had been a critic of al-Sistani, urging Iraq's top Shia leader to take a more active, confrontational stance toward Saddam's rule.
Al-Sadr carried on that tradition, leading an anti-American revolt and sending the Mahdi Army against U.S. and Iraqi troops in the city of Najaf, where the Mahdi Army barricaded itself inside the one of the holiest Shia Muslim sites, the Imam Ali shrine. He has also taken on the coalition and Iraqi forces in his stronghold, Sadr City, the area of Baghdad named after his father.
Al-Sadr has struck a chord with the large part of the Iraqi population that is under age 25, wresting followers from the established Shia hierarchy and gaining followers as sectarian violence continues to rise in the capital and beyond. The United States blames al-Sadr for many of the attacks on Sunni Muslims, but the militant leader has powerful ties within the government and the prime minister has been unable — or perhaps unwilling — to curb the militia.
Members of the U.S. Iraq Study Group noted in their report, released in December 2006, that several observers told them al-Sadr seems to be following the model of Hezbollah in Lebanon, "building a political party that controls basic services within the government and an armed militia outside of the government."
- CBC INDEPTH: Muqtada al-Sadr
Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, a cleric, is the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which is the largest and best-organized Shia Muslim political party in Iraq. The party, which has close ties to Iran, has been pushing for a semi-autonomous Shia region made up of nine southern provinces.
Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, who leads the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, played a leading role in rallying Shia Muslims to vote in both 2005 elections. (Murad Sezer/Associated Press)
Al-Hakim also heads the United Iraqi Alliance, the major Shia political coalition, overseeing the efforts to get millions of Shias to vote in both 2005 elections. By capturing nearly half the vote in the January poll, his alliance ensured that Shias would have a prominent hand in drafting the country's constitution. The repeat victory in the December election ensured that Shias continued to dominate in the National Assembly.
Al-Hakim was the first exiled Shia cleric to return to Iraq after Saddam's fall. He had been living in Iran for 23 years, and has repeatedly said he supports a secular government for Iraq.
He took over the reins of the SCIRI after the previous leader — his brother — was killed in a car bombing. The organization has an armed wing, which has been largely funded by Iran.
Sheik Harith al-Dhari
Sheik Harith al-Dhari leads the Muslim Scholars Association, the most influential Sunni Muslim organization in Iraq. The group formed immediately after the fall of Saddam in 2003, and has ties both to Sunni Muslims within the government and the insurgency.
Sheik Harith al-Dhari leads the Muslim Scholars Association, the most influential Sunni Muslim organization in Iraq. The government issues a warrant for his arrest in November 2006, on charges of inciting violence and terrorism. (Nader Daoud/Associated Press)
Al-Dhari, chairman of the association, has been outspoken in his criticism of the Shia-dominated government and the U.S.-led foreign troops in Iraq, including encouraging attacks against the international forces if Washington doesn't set a timetable for withdrawal from the country.
Although the hard-line stance won him more followers, it also led the Shia-dominated Interior Ministry to issue a warrant for his arrest in November 2006, on charges of inciting violence and terrorism. News of the warrant sparked riots in support of al-Dhari.
Massoud Barzani leads the Kurdistan Democratic party (KDP), one of the two main Kurdish political parties in Iraq, and is president of the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq.
Massoud Barzani is the president of the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq. (Burhan Ozbilici/Associated Press)
He took the reins of the party in 1979, after the death of his father, Mustafa Barzani, a legendary Kurdish nationalist who declared armed resistance against Saddam and led the KDP for years.
The KDP clashed for decades with the other prime force in Kurdish Iraqi politics, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) led by Jalal Talabani. Massoud Barzani helped establish the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War and formed a temporary truce with Talabani to co-govern. However, armed violence broke out between the two parties for several years, ending with a peace agreement in the late 1990s.
Shortly before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, Massoud Barzani and Talabani put aside their differences to form a coalition. Both leaders were appointed to the Iraqi Governing Council. While Talabani went on to become president of the Iraqi government and Barzani was elected as president of the Iraqi Kurdistan region in June 2005.
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