Al-Ahram Weekly Online   24 - 30 March 2005
Issue No. 735
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

The key players

The men who will make up Iraq's next government certainly have their work cut out for them. Ali Al-Saadi provides an overview of those involved

Click to view caption
Iraqi men look at a destroyed vehicle following a roadside bomb in the northern city of Mosul on 22 March 2005. The bomb detonated as a US convoy drove by, killing four civilians caught in the explosion. In the background is a half- finished mosque which was being built by ousted president Saddam Hussein

The shelf life of the next Iraqi government may be limited, but that government will be one of the most crucial in Iraq's modern history, and its decisions will shape the country for years to come. It is up to that government to nurture the nation's burgeoning democracy or let it wither away untended.

The government will see to it that a constitution is drafted, submitted to the National Assembly for approval, and put to a public referendum. It will have to accommodate variant and often conflicting demands and enshrine the outcome in the constitution. It will have to convince the nation of its viability, which it could only achieve through endurance, flexibility, and political dexterity.

Iraq's political scene is one which involves considerable manoeuvring and bargaining, bluffing and even some blackmail. The people running the country in the next few months will have to be exceptionally gifted, politically savvy, and quite knowledgeable. They will be asked to provide the nation with the three things it needs most: security, constitution, and bread. But who are they?

One obvious candidate is Jalal Talabani. A veteran politician with Arafat's gift for manoeuvrability, Talabani is a tough negotiator who is likely to crush his interlocutors with an avalanche of details, particularly when Kurdish matters are involved. Talabani's tactical savvy contrasts with Massoud Barzani's tribal, religious, and ethnic flair. Talabani will bring his own vision to Iraq's political scene. He believes that the creation of Greater Kurdistan cannot take place without Iraqi leverage, without a legal framework allowing for later secession. Talabani is careful not to alienate Arab Iraqis to the point of undermining the entire Kurdish project.

Barzani, meanwhile, believes that the Arabs are now at their weakest and that the Kurds must drive a tough bargain at once. According to Barzani, the Kurds should take advantage of the situation and obtain constitutional concessions allowing them to move on to independence when the time is right. Barham Saleh agrees with Talabani. Hochiar Zibari and Roz Nuri Shawis share some of Barzani's sentiments.

One of Talabani's vice presidents is likely to be Adel Abdul-Mehdi. He holds a PhD in economics from France and a high-ranking position within the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). He is largely seen as independent-minded and liberal. It was this liberalism that has perhaps deprived him from the chance to compete with Al- Jaafari for the post of prime minister.

Talabani's other possible vice president is Hajim Al- Husseini. Born in Kirkuk in 1954, Al-Husseini graduated at Mosul University and then studied in the US, where he obtained a PhD in industrial organisation from Connecticut University, the US. He was a deputy leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP), but ran on Sheikh Ghazi Al-Yawar's list following differences with other IIP leaders. Al-Husseini is progressive in his politics and wants citizenry to overcome other loyalties in the country. He has the support of many Sunni Arabs, including Al-Yawar, who is likely to become speaker of the National Assembly; Sheikh Ahmed Abdul- Ghafur, member of the Association of Muslim Scholars; and Adnan Al-Deleimi, head of the Sunni Endowments Department.

Ibrahim Al-Jaafari is widely expected to be the next prime minister. Born in Karbalaa in 1947, Al-Jaafari graduated at Mosul University and was a key figure of the Daawa (call) Party for years. He is a political pragmatist, though his religious conservatism worries many and may have held back the negotiations with the Kurdish list. A dynamic interlocutor, Al-Jaafari is at home with Iraq's intellectual and political scene. He believes that the Shia should not push their factional affiliation to the point of endangering the nation's larger fabric.

Despite what the Arab media says and what many think, Ahmed Chalabi is not a spent force. He is a seasoned liberal and the head of a powerful party alliance. He maintains close links with key players in the country, such as Modar Shawkat.

Iyad Allawi is a natural leader. His political and security credentials have helped Iraq traverse one of its worst periods. Allawi has made it clear that he is not going to be part of the coming government, but is expected to have a say on how the country is run given his ties with top officials.

Ayatollah Al-Sistani is a figure of immense religious following. If Iraq has held successful elections and avoided civil war, some of the credit should go to Al-Sistani, whose call to the nation to go to the polls had the effect of religious edict.

Al-Sistani's moderation has more than once averted violent sectarian vendettas from taking place. His authority is likely to be durable.

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