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IRAQ: Iraq's Governing Council

Author: Sharon Otterman
May 17, 2004
This publication is now archived.

What is the makeup of the Iraqi Governing Council?

A diverse mixture of Iraqis—including recently returned exiles, tribal leaders, women, religious Muslim conservatives, and secular political leaders. Shiites, who account for 60 percent of the Iraqi population, are allotted 13 seats on the U.S.-appointed council; 12 seats are divided among Iraq’s main minorities: Sunni Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, and Turkmen. Two members of the council have been assassinated. On May 17, a suicide car bombing in Baghdad killed Ezzidin Salim, a leader of the Islamic Da’wa Party, one of the most influential Shiite Muslim political factions in Iraq. Salim was the council’s president in May; members fill the post monthly on a rotating basis. Akila al-Hashimi, a Shiite woman and former Iraqi diplomat, was killed in September 2003. She was replaced in December by Salama al-Khufaji, a female dentistry professor at Baghdad University.

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Who is not represented on the council?

Powerful and, in some cases, stridently anti-U.S. Shiite religious leaders, such as Imam Muqtada al-Sadr, who has been leading an uprising against U.S. forces. Also excluded are former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party, many of whom were Sunni Muslims. U.S. officials hold ex-Baathists and foreign terrorists responsible for continuing attacks against American forces in Falluja and other towns of the largely Sunni area north and west of Baghdad.

How were members selected?

They were appointed by the occupation authorities, who consulted with the major anti-Saddam groups that had worked with Washington before the Iraq war. The U.N. representative in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, also advised on the council’s makeup. Vieira de Mello and 22 others were killed August 19, 2003, when a truck bomb exploded outside the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad.

Is the council representative of the views of the Iraqi people?

Its ethnic and religious makeup is far more representative than any previous Iraqi government, and the Shiite majority, for the first time in Iraqi history, has a leading voice in politics. The council also includes representatives not closely aligned with American views—including a communist and at least one Shiite representative whose group has ties with Iran. On the other hand, returned Iraqi exiles are disproportionately represented, and there is limited representation of tribal leaders, who represent a potent force in traditional Iraqi society. The council lacks legitimacy with ordinary Iraqis, who do not view it as independent of occupying authorities.

How many council members are returned Iraqi exiles?

Nine—six of the 12 Shiite representatives and three of the Arab Sunnis. In addition, five Kurdish representatives and at least one other Iraqi on the council have lived in northern Iraqi areas that had been outside of Saddam Hussein’s control since the 1991 Gulf War.

What powers does the council have?

It can appoint interim diplomats and ministers, approve budgets, and propose policies, but the coalition authorities can veto any of its decisions. It was also scheduled to play a major role in the coalition’s plan for Iraq’s political future, but its importance on that front diminished since the United Nations, led by Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, took control of the transition process in April. Brahimi plans to appoint a “caretaker” government of technocrats—not political figures on the Governing Council—to take over Iraq on June 30. But he has not yet made a final decision on who will run the government.

What has the council achieved?

Since taking office July 13, 2003, it has appointed interim ministers to Iraq’s 25 ministries, attended meetings at the United Nations, and negotiated preliminary agreements with the governments of neighboring countries, such as Iran. But it has had trouble reaching consensus on key matters, many observers say. Unable to decide on a single president, it created a system in which a weak presidency rotates on a monthly basis among nine members—five Shiites, two Sunnis, and two Kurds. A committee it established to decide how a permanent Iraqi constitution should be written folded without progress in September, 2003; council members are now attempting to draft an interim constitution by February 28. Some U.S. officials have criticized the council for working too slowly and failing to reach out to ordinary Iraqis. Council members have defended themselves by pointing out that the issues they debate are complex and divisive. “We need to negotiate and have a dialogue to reach a decision,” member Mowaffak al-Rubaie told the Associated Press. “And when we do that, then we shall have to talk with our [coalition] partners, differ, negotiate, and compromise with them.”

What has been the council's biggest test?

Attempting to improve security, stability, and the delivery of basic services to the country, experts say. Its fate has thus been closely intertwined with that of the U.S.-led occupiers, who have been struggling to improve security and services to Iraq since Baghdad fell to coalition forces April 9, 2003.

What difficulties has the council faced?

The diverse group has had trouble reaching consensus on aspects of the plan to return Iraqi sovereignty by June 30. Shiite members, following the lead of the powerful Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, pressed for early elections and rejected an earlier U.S. plan that established a complicated caucus system for choosing delegates to a transitional assembly. Many Sunnis and Kurdish representatives, meanwhile, opposed early elections because they feared they would cede too much power to the Shiite majority.

How long will the council serve?

It is scheduled to be disbanded by June 30, in accordance with a plan to return sovereignty to Iraq on that date. The Coalition Provisional Authority, the U.S.-led occupation government in Baghdad, will also be dissolved. But some council members are reportedly pressing for senior positions in the new government or angling to keep the governing council intact, perhaps as an advisory body in the new government.

Who is the highest-ranking Shiite religious figure on the council?

An 80-year-old former exile, Sayyed Mohammed Bahr al-Uloum. Experts consider him a moderate Shiite cleric; broadly speaking, means that he wants Iraq to be a tolerant, but religiously based, state. After Saddam Hussein’s regime killed some of his family, Uloum fled Iraq in 1991 to London, where he headed the Ahl al-Bayt charitable center. Though a respected religious leader, Uloum does not have the rank of ayatollah or the authority of Sistani. Uloum’s tenure on the council has not been smooth: he was almost killed November 12, 2003, when coalition forces inadvertently fired on his car, and he temporarily stepped down from the council in September to protest the lack of security that contributed to the August assassination of another important cleric, Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim.

Who are the other Shiite exiles on the council?
  • Ahmad Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), an umbrella organization of political groups that opposed Saddam Hussein’s government from exile. A favorite of the Pentagon civilian leadership, he was flown into Iraq with 700 of the INC’s “Free Iraqi Fighters” during the war and has played an important role on the council. In the 1990s, he was found guilty of embezzlement by a Jordanian court, but he says the charges were politically motivated.
  • Iyad Alawi, head of the Iraqi National Accord (INA), a London-based opposition group of former Iraqi army officers who staged an unsuccessful 1996 coup d’etat against Saddam Hussein with CIA assistance. Alawi is a doctor and a former Iraqi intelligence officer.
  • Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the political leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Based in Tehran since 1980, al-Hakim is the brother of Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, who was killed in a bombing in Najaf on August 29, 2003. Both men object to the U.S.-led occupation, but they cooperated with Washington—and Tehran—to oppose Saddam Hussein. Hakim’s decision to participate on the council had originally been in doubt. In recent months, al-Hakim was the main interlocutor between the occupation authorities and Sistani, who has refused to meet with the U.S. administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III.
  • Ibrahim Jafari, a medical doctor and spokesman of the Islamic Da’wa Party, a radical Shiite movement active in Iraq since the 1960s that sought Saddam Hussein’s overthrow and was brutally rooted out by his regime. Surviving Da’wa members fled to London, Syria, and Tehran. Jafari left Iraq in 1980. The group’s stated mission is the promotion of Islam for all Muslims. It also supports the establishment of an Islamic state in Iraq.
  • Mowaffak al-Rubaie, a former Da’wa spokesman in Britain, neurologist, and human rights activist.
Who are the Shiites on the council from inside the country?
  • Wael Abdul Latif, a judge in Basra since 1982 who was named interim governor of the city in June 2003.During Saddam Hussein’s reign, he spent a year in prison.
  • Hamid Majeed Mousa, an economist and the head of the Iraqi Communist Party since 1993. Originally from Babylon, south of Baghdad, he lived for several years in the 1990s in Iraqi Kurdistan. The party was an important force in Iraq in the 1950s and 1960s.
  • Shiekh Ahmad Shyaa al-Barak, the leader of the Al-Bu Sultan tribe and a lawyer who runs an Iraqi human rights association. He reportedly worked with the Iraqi foreign ministry as a liaison with the United Nations in the 1990s.
  • Raja Habib Khuzai, a female doctor who heads a maternity hospital in the southern city of Diwaniyah. She lived in London from the late 1960s until 1977, when she returned to Iraq.
  • Ezzidin Salim, also known as Abdul Zahra Othman Muhammad. A writer from the southern city of Basra and a local leader of the Da’wa Party, he was assassinated May 17.
  • Abdul Karim al-Muhammadawi, a member of an important southern tribe who led guerrilla attacks against Saddam Hussein’s government for 17 years from Iraq’s southern marshes, earning him the nickname “Prince of the Marshes.” He was also affiliated with the Iraqi Party of God (Hezbollah), an anti-Saddam resistance group formed by pro-Iranian radicals in 1981. The organization, which continues to operate in Iraq, denies links to Lebanese Hezbollah, which is classified by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization. The group’s ties to Iran, however, are believed to remain strong.
  • Salama al-Khufaji, a female professor of dentistry at Baghdad University who joined the council on December 8, 2003. She replaced Akila al-Hashimi, a former Iraqi diplomat who was assassinated in September 2003. Al-Khufaji, one of three women on the council, is from the southern Shiite city of Karbala.
Who are the Sunni exiles on the council?
  • Adnan Pachachi, 80, served as foreign minister before the Baath Party came to power in 1968. He founded the Independent Democratic Movement in February 2003 to provide a platform for Iraqis who back a secular, democratic government, and returned to Iraq in May2003 after 32 years in exile. Experts say he is respected as the most senior political figure on the council and plays an important role.
  • Samir Shakir Mahmoud al-Sumaidy, owns a construction company in China and represents the Sumaidy clan. He is a writer and was a prominent opposition figure in the Saddam Hussein era.
  • Ghazi Ajil al-Yawar, a businessman originally from Mosul in the north. He’s the nephew of Sheikh Mohsen Adil al-Yawar, head of the powerful Shamar tribe. He lived for 15 years in Saudi Arabia, where he worked in business, returning to Iraq in June 2003.
Who are the Sunni members from inside the country?
  • Naseer Kamel Chaderchi, a lawyer and businessman who leads the National Democratic Party of Iraq (NDP). His father, Kamel, was a leading democratic political thinker in Iraq during the 1950s and 1960s and a founder of the NDP. Chaderchi himself was an important political figure until the Baathists seized power in 1968.
  • Moshen Abdul Hameed, a professor at Baghdad University and head of the Iraqi Islamic Party, about which little is known. He is the author of more than 30 books on the interpretation of the Koran.
Who are the main Kurdish leaders on the council?
  • Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), one of the two largest Kurdish political parties. He became a resistance fighter—a peshmerga—in 1963, taking over the party helm on his father’s death in 1979. He has shared power in the autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq since 1992 with rival Jalal Talabani.
  • Jalal Talabani, head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the other of the two largest Kurdish political parties. He was born near Erbil and during the 1960s was a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party under Barzani’s control. He split from the party in 1975 to form the PUK, which controls the southeast of Kurdistan; the KDP controls the northwest.
Who are the other Kurdish leaders?
  • Salahaddin Mohammed Bahaddin, secretary general of the Kurdistan Islamic Union since 1994. The religiously based Sunni party is reportedly the third most powerful Kurdish grouping after the PUK and the KDP.
  • Dara Nor al-Din, a judge on the Court of Appeals who served eight months in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison after ruling that an edict from Saddam Hussein was unconstitutional. He is originally from the northern oil city of Kirkuk.
  • Mahmoud Othman, originally from Sulamaniyah. He held various posts in the KDP before leaving the group and moving to London, where he founded the Kurdish Socialist Party in 1975. He later moved to Erbil in northern Iraq.
Who represents Iraq's other minorities?
  • Songul Chapouk, a teacher of fine arts in the northern city of Mosul and head of the grassroots Iraqi Women’s Organization, represents the small Turkmen minority. She survived an assassination attempt in early November 2003, according to press reports.
  • Yonadem Kanna, secretary general of the Assyrian Democratic Movement, representing the Christian minority, which is mostly made up of ethnic Assyrians and Chaldeans. He was in charge of transportation in the first Kurdish regional assembly set up in the 1990s.

Sources: Associated Press; Agence France Presse; The Washington Post; The New York Times; interviews with Phebe Marr, author of “The Modern History of Iraq,” Yitzhak Nakash, author of “The Shi’is of Iraq,” and Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland.

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