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IRAQ: The Transitional Government

Authors: Esther Pan, and Sharon Otterman
April 7, 2005
This publication is now archived.

What is the next step in the creation of the Iraqi government?

On April 6, the 275 members of the transitional National Assembly elected the nation's new president, Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani, and two vice presidents, Adel Abdul Mahdi, a Shiite, and interim President Ghazi al-Yawar, a Sunni Arab. On April 7, these three leaders--known as the Presidency Council--named Shiite leader Ibrahim al-Jaafari as prime minister. Jaafari will now recommend a cabinet, which must be approved by a simple majority vote of the assembly.

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How long will it take to finish forming the government?

Jaafari said April 7 that he expected to name a cabinet "within two weeks." Under the rules of Iraq's interim constitution, known as the Transitional Administrative Law, Jaafari has one month to select the nation's ministers. The process is widely expected to go more quickly now that the political logjam that delayed the government's creation since the January 30 elections has been broken.

How will power be distributed between the president and prime minister?

Iraq's transitional government is a parliamentary democracy with a legislature, executive branch, and independent judiciary. In the executive branch, the prime minister is the person who "exercises almost all the real power," says Noah Feldman, associate professor of law at New York University and a former constitutional adviser to the Iraqi government. The Presidency Council has some important executive powers--it can veto legislation passed by the National Assembly, and appoint the Supreme Court and other judges. Even so, the presidency remains "primarily symbolic--much more like a chairman of the board than a CEO [chief executive officer]," Feldman says.

What will happen after the government is formed?

The transitional government will run the country and its ministries and write a permanent constitution. The deadline for the new constitution is August 15, but a six-month extension is possible--and, some experts say, likely--given the delay in forming the new government. A public referendum must be held on the constitution two months after the draft is completed. If all goes according to schedule and no extensions are granted, a national vote for a permanent government will take place by December 31, 2005.

Who are the transitional government's new leaders?
  • Prime Minister: Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Dawa Islamiya Party. Jaafari, a 58-year-old doctor, is a Dawa leader and served as a vice president in the interim government. A Shiite opposition group that fought Saddam Hussein's rule, Dawa advocates an Islamic government in Iraq. Many of its members were forced to flee to Iran and other nations in 1982 after a brutal government crackdown by the former Baathist government. Dawa was the largest Shiite party in Iraq until 2003, when it split into three factions. Jaafari heads the most influential of the factions and has pledged his support for democratic reforms. He was elected to the National Assembly as part of the Shiite UIA coalition, which won 51 percent of the Assembly seats.
  • President: Jalal Talabani, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Talabani, 71, is the head 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), but he disagreed with its direction and founded the PUK in 1975. Talabani ran in the January 30 election with KDP leader Massoud Barzani on a joint Kurdish slate that won about 26 percent of the vote and some 75 seats in the new assembly. This put the Kurds--some 15 percent to 20 percent of Iraq's population--in a powerful negotiating position. The Kurds received the presidency as part of a political bargain with the leading Shiite coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), whose candidate will receive the more powerful post of prime minister.
  • Vice President: Adel Abdul Mahdi, Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Mahdi, a 62-year-old Shiite, was the finance minister for the interim government. A political activist in the 1960s, he was repeatedly jailed until 1969, when the ruling 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 from 1992-96. Mahdi is the son of a respected Shiite cleric who was a cabinet minister during the Iraqi monarchy.
  • Vice President: Ghazi al-Yawar, Iraqis Party.The 45-year-old sheik 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 five seats in the new assembly.
Which other posts have been selected?
  • Speaker of the National Assembly: Hajim al-Hassani, Iraqis Party. Hassani, 50, a Sunni, was the minister of industry in the interim government before being appointed to this largely ceremonial post. Until late 2004, he was the spokesman for the Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP), a leading Sunni Islamist organization. When the IIP decided not to participate in the election because of limited Sunni support for the vote, Hassani dropped out of the party and ran in the elections on interim President Yawar's slate. Born in Kirkuk, Hassani graduated from Mosul University and moved to the United States in 1979. He earned a doctorate in industrial organization from the University of Connecticut and most recently was head of the American Investment and Trading Company in Los Angeles. After returning to Iraq in 2003, he served as the deputy chair of the finance committee of the now-defunct Iraqi Governing Council.
  • Deputy Speaker of the Assembly: Hussein al-Shahrastani, UIA. Shahrastani, 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 the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the leading Shiite cleric in Iraq, and was involved in establishing the UIA slate. Shahrastani was a candidate to become interim prime minister in June 2004, a post that ultimately went to secular Shiite Ayad Allawi.
  • Deputy Speaker of the Assembly: Arif Taifur, KDP. Taifur, a Kurd, was born in 1954 in the northern Iraqi province of Sulaimaniya. A graduate of the University of Baghdad law school, he became a member of the KDP in 1967. He fled to Iran in 1974 after the regime in Baghdad defeated a Kurdish revolt, and returned to Iraq in 1976 to help establish the KDP provisional leadership. He has since become a key member of the party.

--by Sharon Otterman, associate director, cfr.org and Esther Pan, staff writer, cfr.org

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