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IRAQ: Iraq's Leadership Class

Author: Esther Pan
February 14, 2005

How will Iraq's top political posts be filled?

Now that the votes from the January 30 election have been tallied, the 275 newly elected members of the transitional National Assembly will select a president and two deputy presidents from their ranks. These three will make up a Presidency Council, which must receive a two-thirds majority vote of approval from the assembly. The Presidency Council will then unanimously select a prime minister within two weeks. The National Assembly must give the prime minister and his council a vote of confidence with a simple majority before they can begin work. The Iraqi transitional government, according to the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL) approved by the Iraqi Governing Council on March 8, 2004, will be made up of the National Assembly, the Presidency Council, the Council of Ministers--including the prime minister--and an independent judiciary.

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How will power be distributed?

The different bodies of the Iraqi transitional government will each operate with several checks and balances on their power.

  • The Presidency Council has the power to veto legislation passed by the National Assembly within 15 days. The president can dismiss the prime minister or any of the members of the Council of Ministers. The Presidency Council is also responsible for appointing the highest members of the judiciary, including the federal Supreme Court. The Presidency Council serves as commander-in-chief of the Iraqi Armed Forces for ceremonial and protocol purposes and has no command authority over the military, only "the right to be briefed, to inquire, and to advise" according to the TAL.
  • The prime minister has responsibility for day-to-day running of the government and, with the approval of the National Assembly, can dismiss ministers. The Council of Ministers, including the prime minister, can propose legislation to the National Assembly. It also has the power to negotiate international treaties and appoint the military's top generals and the director of the intelligence services. These appointments must be confirmed by a majority vote of the National Assembly.
  • The National Assembly can dismiss any minister using a vote of no confidence. If the National Assembly loses confidence in the prime minister, it can remove him and dissolve the Council of Ministers in 30 days.
What are the eligibility requirements to be president and prime minister?

The president and deputy presidents must be elected members of the National Assembly, must be at least 40 years old, must have a “good reputation, integrity, and rectitude,” according to the TAL, cannot have been members of the Baath Party in the last 10 years, and cannot have committed crimes against the Iraqi people. Prime ministerial candidates must be at least 35; otherwise, the requirements are the same as for presidential candidates.

Who are the leading candidates for prime minister?

With a single exception--the current prime minister--they are all allied with the United Iraqi Alliance, the Shiite-dominated slate that is expected to win the majority of votes:

  • Ayad Allawi, Iraqi National Accord

    The interim prime minister, 60, is a doctor and former member of the Baath Party who led resistance efforts against Saddam Hussein for three decades from exile in London. A secular Shiite, Allawi has a reputation for toughness and a long history of working with the United States and Britain. His party's slate, the Iraqi List, won 14 percent of the vote and about 40 seats.

  • Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)

    Hakim has joined with other Shiite leaders and the country's most influential Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, to form the United Iraqi Alliance electoral slate. Hakim was a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, set up by coalition forces after the fall of Baghdad. SCIRI was founded as a guerilla movement in 1982 in Iran and its militia, the Badr Brigades, staged armed attacks against Saddam Hussein's regime. The militia included many Iraqi Shiite soldiers who had defected to Iran during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. SCIRI--which once advocated revolution and the establishment of an Islamic state in Iraq--now says its supports a secular democracy that recognizes the importance of Islam but bars clerics from overtly exercising political power, a position embraced by Sistani.

  • Adel Abdel Mahdi, SCIRI

    Mahdi, a 62-year-old Shiite, is the finance minister of the interim government. He was a political activist in the 1960s and was repeatedly jailed until 1969, when the Baath Party stripped him of his passport. He went into exile in France, where he studied politics and economics and became the head of the French Institute for Islamic Studies. He also served as a SCIRI representative in Iran in 1992-96. Mahdi is the son of a respected Shiite cleric who was a Cabinet minister in the Iraqi monarchy.

  • Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Dawa Islamiyah Party

    Jafari, a 58-year-old doctor, is a leader of Dawa and served as a vice president in the interim government. Dawa, a Shiite opposition group that fought Saddam Hussein's rule, has strong links to Iran. Many of its members were forced to flee to Iran in 1982 after a government crackdown. Dawa was the largest Shiite party in Iraq until 2003, when it split into three factions. Jafari heads the most influential of the factions, and has pledged his support for democratic reforms.

  • Ahmad Chalabi, Iraqi National Congress

    A former Pentagon favorite, the 58-year-old Chalabi fell out of favor with Washington last year over claims he had inflated prewar intelligence and passed U.S. secrets to Iran. A secular Shiite who spent many years in exile in the Middle East and the United States, Chalabi ran on the Shiite slate, the United Iraqi Alliance.

  • Hussein al-Shahrastani, United Iraqi Alliance

    Shahristani, a Shiite, is a nuclear scientist who refused to work on Saddam Hussein's nuclear weapons program and was jailed in 1979. He left Iraq in 1991 and returned after the March 2003 invasion. He is close to Sistani and was involved in establishing the United Iraqi Alliance slate. Shahrastani was a candidate to become interim prime minister in June 2004, a post that ultimately went to Allawi.

Who are the leading presidential candidates?

They include:

  • Sheikh Ghazi al-Yawar, Iraqis Party

    The 45-year-old sheikh served as interim president of Iraq, a largely ceremonial post. He is a Sunni and a member of the prominent Shammar tribe. Born in Mosul, Yawar studied in Saudi Arabia and the United States; he is a civil engineer. His party won some 2 percent of the vote and about five seats in the new assembly.

  • Adnan Pachachi, Assembly of Independent Democrats

    The 81-year-old Pachachi is an elder statesman of Iraqi politics. A secular Sunni, he was foreign minister of the government toppled by the Baath Party in 1968 and served on the Iraqi Governing Council after the March 2003 invasion. He turned down an offer to be president of the interim government. After initially pushing for a postponement of the January 30 elections, he decided to join the political process and ran for a seat in the transitional assembly.

  • Jalal Talabani, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)

    Talabani, 70, is a Kurd and leader of the PUK, one of the two main Kurdish political parties. As a youth, he was a member of the other main Kurdish party, the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), then founded the PUK in 1975. He ran with KDP leader Massoud Barzani on a joint Kurdish slate, the Kurdish Alliance List, which won about 26 percent of the vote and some 75 seats in the new assembly.

  • Massoud Barzani, KDP

    Barzani, 56, is the son of the KDP's founder and former leader, Mustafa Barzani. The younger Barzani took over the party's leadership after his father's death in 1979 and fought pitched battles for many years against both Saddam Hussein and the PUK. Barzani and Talabani, longtime enemies, patched over their differences and ran together on the Kurdish Alliance List, the main Kurdish electoral slate.

--by Esther Pan, staff writer, cfr.org

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