Al-Jaafari, Ibrahim (Iraq)

Reference work entry


When he was sworn in as interim prime minister on 3 May 2005, Ibrahim al-Jaafari became Iraq’s first democratically elected leader. A Shia Muslim and a long-time member of the conservative al-Dawa party, al-Jaafari was an exile in Iran and the UK for 23 years, and he became a powerful and vocal critic of Saddam Hussein’s regime. He has argued for a new international ‘Marshall Plan’ for Iraq and the broader Middle East: ‘Marshall repaired the decaying infrastructure of Germany after 6 years of war and 12 years of Nazi rule. In Iraq we have had nearly 40 years of fascist rule and have been at war for half that time’. In April 2006 al-Jaafari was succeeded by Nouri al-Maliki.

Early Life

Ibrahim al-Ashaiqir al-Jaafari was born in Karbala, south of Baghdad, in 1947. He studied medicine at the University of Mosul, where he joined al-Dawa, a conservative Shia Muslim group. After graduating in 1974, al-Jaafari practised medicine while becoming actively involved in al-Dawa and its opposition to the secular politics of the ruling Ba’ath party. In 1980, the year after Saddam Hussein took control of the Ba’ath party and began a violent crackdown on the al-Dawa group, al-Jaafari fled to Iran. He remained there until 1989, but has denied allegations that he was closely linked to Iran’s ruling clerics. He studied Shia theology at the holy city of Qom, and subsequently organized resistance against Saddam.

In the early 1980s, al-Dawa carried out several suicide bombings in Baghdad and there was speculation that al-Jaafari was behind an attempted assassination of the then Iraqi-allied Kuwaiti amir. However, he has denied involvement. Having moved to London in 1990, al-Jaafari became the al-Dawa spokesperson in the UK and a key activist in the broader anti-Saddam movement. Al-Dawa claimed responsibility for an assassination attempt on Saddam’s eldest son, Uday, in 1996.

Following the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003 and the fall of Saddam, al-Jaafari returned to his homeland. In July 2003 he was selected as a member of the US-backed Iraqi Governing Council and was the first to take the rotating chairmanship (and interim presidency) a month later.

In June 2004, after the USA handed over sovereignty of Iraq to an interim administration led by Dr Ayad al-Alawi, al-Jaafari was selected to be one of the government’s two vice-presidents. He later brought al-Dawa into a coalition of Shia parties known as the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA). The coalition was endorsed by Iranian-born Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s most influential Shia cleric, and it won a majority (140 of the parliament’s 275 seats) in the Iraqi elections of 30 Jan. 2005. When Ahmed Chalabi dropped out of the race to become the prime minister, al-Jaafari became the UIA’s undisputed candidate. On 7 April 2005 a presidential council of Iraq’s new president, Jalal Talabani and his deputies, Ghazi al-Yawer and Adil Abdel-Mahdi, appointed al-Jaafari prime minister of Iraq.

Career Peak

As prime minister al-Jaafari was at the heart of negotiations to form Iraq’s government. Finally, on 28 April 2005, after lengthy arguments against a backdrop of sustained violence, he secured parliamentary approval for his list of ministers. The majority of the 36 cabinet jobs went to Shias (who form about 60% of the population), although several key positions were also offered to Kurds and Sunni Arabs—the country’s two largest minority groups. Initially, al-Jaafari also served as the defence minister, although the position was ceded to Saadoun al-Duleimi (a Sunni) in May 2005.

The new administration faced many daunting challenges, the most pressing being the continuing insurgency and the prevention of full-scale civil war. ‘I think 2 years will be more than enough to establish security in our country,’ al-Jaafari told a news conference, adding that building up Iraq’s own security forces, controlling its borders and pushing ahead with the political process would all play a part. The administration drafted a new constitution, although there were deep divisions over fundamental matters such as the role of Islam in Iraqi law and the extent of federalism before its approval in a national referendum in Oct. 2005. Al-Jaafari told the press that Islam should be the official religion of Iraq ‘and one of the main sources for legislation’ but glossed over his party’s official position, which calls for the Islamization of Iraqi society, including the implementation of Sharia law.

Following elections in 2005 that re-instated Jalal Talabani as president, al-Jaafari was replaced by Nouri al-Maliki in April 2006.

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