Shiite Leader Named Iraq Premier to End 2 Months of Wrangling
By ROBERT F. WORTH
Published: April 8, 2005
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BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 7 - The Shiite leader Ibrahim al-Jaafari was appointed
Iraq's new prime minister Thursday, crystallizing the leadership of the
first elected government in decades and ending more than two months of
Dr. Jaafari, a doctor and the leader of one of Iraq's major Shiite religious
parties, was named by the new president, Jalal Talabani, shortly after Mr.
Talabani was sworn into office with his hand on a Koran.
Hours earlier, Ayad Allawi, who has been the prime minister in Iraq's
interim government, submitted his resignation, opening the way for the new
government to take power. Dr. Allawi will remain head of a caretaker
government until a full cabinet is chosen.
Dr. Jaafari, 58, had long been expected to be named prime minister - the
most powerful post in the new government. Still, the announcement brought a
palpable sense of finality and relief among Iraq's leading political groups,
which had spent weeks locked in bitter talks on power-sharing and other
issues that tried the patience of many Iraqis who risked their lives to vote
on Jan. 30.
The appointment was also a long-deferred moment of triumph for the Shiites,
who represent 60 percent of Iraq's population but were brutally suppressed
by Saddam Hussein.
The Shiite coalition to which Mr. Jaafari belongs was formed under the
auspices of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most revered Shiite
cleric, and Dr. Jaafari has made clear that he favors a strong voice for
Islam in Iraq's new constitution, although he is vague about specifics.
Dr. Jaafari's appointment also underscored the anxieties expressed by some
Arab leaders about Iran's influence in the region. During 20 years of exile
from Iraq, Dr. Jaafari spent time living in Iran and forged close ties with
Iranian leaders, as did many members of his Dawa Party.
As a member of the American-appointed Iraqi Governing Council set up shortly
after American forces ousted Mr. Hussein two years ago, he pushed for a
broader role for Islam in the interim constitution that now is in force in
Iraq. When pressed for his personal views about what elements of Islamic law
should be reflected in Iraq's new constitution, Dr. Jaafari offered few
details during an interview last month.
"I understand that Iraqis all have different views and different political
thinking and different religious thinking," he said. "The majority are
Muslim, but that doesn't mean others are canceled or excluded."
He described himself in the interview as a supporter of a strong political
role for women, and he said he would never favor laws forcing women to wear
head scarves in public. Asked for his views on whether adultery should be
criminalized in Iraq - as it is in some Arab countries - he said simply that
this was an issue for the parliament to deal with, not him.
"This day for me means a new democratic political era in Iraq," Dr. Jaafari
said Thursday after being named by the new president, Jalal Talabani, a Kurd
who was selected on Wednesday. "It is one of the most important moments in
the new democratic process in our country."
As he picks his cabinet, Dr. Jaafari will be facing a range of difficult
issues that have already tested the fragile coalition between his Shiite
alliance, which won just over half the assembly's 275 seats, and the smaller
Kurdish alliance to which Mr. Talabani belongs. In addition to the role of
Islam in the new government, those issues include the extent of Kurdish
autonomy and how to split revenues from Iraq's oil industry.
On Wednesday, some assembly members called for Dr. Allawi's government to be
dissolved as soon as Mr. Talabani was sworn in, but that issue may have been
defused by Dr. Allawi's resignation.
Barham Salih, a member of the Kurdish alliance, said Dr. Allawi's government
would now remain in office as a caretaker government until Dr. Jaafari
finishes naming his cabinet. Dr. Allawi is also a member of the new Iraqi
Dr. Jaafari offered no hints about whom he would name to his cabinet. He
added, though, that the new government would include women and
representatives of Iraq's various ethnic and religious groups.
But an agreement has been reached to name a Sunni Arab as head of the
Defense Ministry, said Jawad al-Maliki, a national assembly member and
deputy leader of the Dawa Party. Over all, the Sunnis will be given no less
than six ministries, and the Foreign Ministry portfolio will go to Hoshyar
Zebari, a Kurd who holds the same post in the interim government, Mr. Maliki
Sunni Arabs largely stayed away from the polls during the January election,
and granting them powerful positions is seen as crucial both in forming a
stable government and in defeating the insurgency. The Defense Ministry
could be particularly important in that effort. Sunnis dominated the higher
echelons of Mr. Hussein's military, and many joined the insurgency after his
Mr. Talabani made his own overtures to the Sunnis after he took the oath of
office on Thursday, along with his two deputies, in an auditorium packed
with members of the new national assembly.
The Shiite and Kurdish alliances, Mr. Talabani said, "should respond to the
legitimate demands of our brothers the Sunni Arabs and respect their rights
as one of the most important elements of the Iraqi people."
Like some other Shiite leaders, Dr. Jaafari initially refused a year ago to
sign Iraq's interim constitution, which sets up the procedures for writing
the new constitution, because it allowed a two-thirds majority in any three
of Iraq's 18 provinces to nullify the final constitution when it goes before
voters later this year.
That provision was particularly important to Iraq's Kurdish minority. But
Dr. Jaafari said at the time that he found it undemocratic. He signed the
law, but has since said he may lead an effort to reverse that provision - a
possibility that alarms many groups here, including the Kurds and the
Dr. Jaafari, a soft-spoken man who smiles easily, was born in the Shiite
holy city of Karbala, where his father worked in the Imam Hussein shrine. He
fled Iraq in 1980, when Mr. Hussein began killing and torturing thousands of
Dawa Party members. After traveling through Syria and Iran, he arrived in
London. He returned to Iraq shortly after the American-led invasion two
"The last person I bade farewell to when I left was my mother," Dr. Jaafari
said in the interview last month. "When I came back to Iraq I went to
Karbala. I visited my mother again, this time in the cemetery."
His mother had died naturally, but one of his brothers and four of his
cousins were executed by Mr. Hussein's government, Dr. Jaafari said.
A voracious reader, he said he was reading Bill Clinton's autobiography. He
said that he liked reading contemporary Arabic poetry and that his favorite
Western writers were Shakespeare, Dickens and Tolstoy.