Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Will Abadi Be Any Different Than Maliki As Iraq’s Next Premier?

Many people are wondering whether prime minister nominee Haider Abadi will be any different from current premier Nouri al-Maliki since they are both from the Dawa Party. A comparison of Maliki to his predecessor Ibrahim al-Jaafari also of Dawa shows that membership in the party does not mean that any two individuals will rule the same. Maliki was accused of amassing too much power in his hands and being an autocrat, while Jaafari was known as a horrible manager who did little while the civil war broke out. Given that history Abadi will likely be his own man when he puts together a new ruling coalition.

Ibrahim al-Jaafari who was premier from 2005-2006 and Nouri al-Maliki both lived lives of exile during the Baathist period. Jaafari was a doctor by profession and joined the Dawa Party while he was at the University of Mosul in 1966. During a government campaign against the party in 1980 he fled to Iran where he lived for almost ten years. In 1989 he relocated to London where he was a spokesman for Dawa. It appeared he left on friendly terms with Iranian officials. (1) Nouri al-Maliki became a member of Dawa when he was a teenager following the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. Upon the suggestion of the party he went to Usual al-Din College in Baghdad, which was founded by Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Sadr the spiritual leader of the movement. He later received a degree in Arab Literature. Like Jaafari Maliki fled Iraq and eventually ended up in Iran after a government crackdown in 1979. There he helped run Dawa’s armed wing against the Baathist government. Like Jaafari, Maliki left in 1990 over Tehran’s attemptto take over the party, and moved to Syria where he continued his clandestine activities. Although their professional background was different, they both came from well off families and joined Dawa around the same time, and were forced to flee their homeland as a result. That led them to Iran, which was considered an inspiration to many party members after its 1979 revolution. That eventually wore off for Maliki who resented Iran’s attempt to control his party, but not so much for Jaafari. He ended up going to the West, while Maliki remained in the Middle East, probably because he was a leader in the armed faction and needed to stay in the region to help run its activities. Still, they held much in common.

Jaafari and Maliki returned to Iraq in 2003 and became premier back to back, but their styles of governing were complete opposites. Following the January 2005 elections, Jaafari was made premier in May. He was known as being an intellectual who loved to talk about philosophy and political thinkers. In July 2005 for example, he met with President George W. Bush in Washington where he went on and on about how much he loved Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and other American presidents. In terms of governance Jaafari was completely ineffective. The premier’s chief of staff said that the prime minister’s office was disorganized, while a U.S. diplomat noted that the office was staffed with Dawa members who had no experience in administration. Jaafari himself attempted to micro-manage everything and did little as a result. Many in the U.S. and Iraq ended up blaming him for the civil war when it broke out his first year in office. He did nothing about the Bard Brigade for example, which took over the Interior Ministry under his government, and began using its commandos to carry out sectarian arrests and killings. Maliki turned out to be the complete opposite, although that was not apparent at first. He was chosen to replace Jaafari in 2006. The Sadrists were one of his main supporters, and Maliki returned the favor by protecting its Mahdi Army, which had become the main militia fighting in the sectarian war from the U.S. When the civil war was subsiding he turned on them seeing them as a possible rival and launched the Charge of the Knights in Basra, Amara, and Baghdad. He would then challenge the insurgency in Mosul, and the Kurds in Diyala. This made him widely popular as an Iraqi nationalist, and helped his new State of Law coalition win the 2009 provincial and 2010 parliamentary elections. Along the way he created his own command system over the security forces, took over the intelligence agencies, went after his opponents, became the acting Defense and Interior Ministers, and gained control over the judiciary all of which led to his image as an autocrat. Although Jaafari and Maliki joined Dawa during the same period, and both went into exile in Iran where they participated in plans to overthrow Saddam Hussein they could not be more different when they became premier. Jaafari loved to talk people to death about esoteric topics, while doing very little as leader of Iraq. Maliki was accused of seizing too much power, and doing too much. Their shared experiences therefore did not shape their vision of how to run Iraq nor their management styles.

Haider Abad’s life started out similar to Jaafari and Maliki’s, but then turned out much different. Like the other two, Abadi came from a well off family. Similar to Maliki, Abadi joined Dawa in 1967 as a teen. He then got a bachelor’s degree at the University of Technology in Baghdad where he became a lecturer in Electrical Engineering making him a professional as Jaafari was. The difference was that Abadi ended up going to London for graduate school and his doctorate in the 1970s. During that period he became the head of the Dawa Party in England where Jaafari would later work with him. After 2003 he was made Communications Minister, and then elected to parliament in 2005 where he was made chairman of the economic committee specializing on reviving the state owned enterprises. He later served as an adviser to Maliki and was put in charge of Tal Afar, which was then under insurgent control. In recent years, he was on the finance committee where he pushed for cutting off budget payments to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) for its independent oil policy. Unlike Jaafari’s reputation as a philosopher and Maliki’s as an autocrat, Abadi is known for being a technocrat. He has been a State of Law loyalist as well, but that could be expected since he has been in Dawa for most of his life.

Given the history of Jaafari and Maliki and their time in office there is no reason to believe that Abadi will be like them. Jaafari and Maliki were complete opposites while prime minister even though their time as Dawa members had many similarities. Abadi has even fewer things in common with those two. His technocratic background might be just what Iraq needs during this moment of crisis. Working on problem solving rather than political disputes would be a huge step forward. At the same time, his early statements about what he wants to do in government cannot be taken at face value. He has called for a trimmed down government and for militias to all be under state control. Jaafari and Maliki made similar comments when they took office, but did nothing substantial about them. Only when Abadi actually becomes prime minister and starts forming policy will it be known whether he will be similar or different from his predecessors.


1. Worth, Robert, “Iraq’s New Presidential Names Shiite Leader as Prime Minister,” New York Times, 4/7/05


Arango, Tim and Gordon, Michael, “Next Leader May Echo Maliki, But Iraqis Hope for New Results,” New York Times, 8/19/14

Associated Press, “Shiites choose nominee for Iraq prime minister,” 4/21/06

Buratha News, “Who is the prime minister-designate to form the next government, Haider Abadi?” 8/11/14

Burns, John, “Precarious Cease-Fire in Amara Holds,” New York Times, 10/22/06

Cole, Juan, “Saving Iraq: Mission impossible,” Salon, 5/11/06

Gordon, Michael and Trainor, General Bernard, The Endgame, The Inside Story of the Struggle for Iraq, From George W. Bush to Barak Obama, (New York: Pantheon Books, 2012)

Michaels, Jim, “Shiites Redefine Battle in Baghdad,” USA Today, 8/10/06

Parker, Ned and Salman, Raheem, "Notes From The Underground: The Rise of Nouri al-Maliki," World Policy Institute, May 2013

Sullivan, Marisa Cochrane, “FACT SHEET: IBRAHIM AL-JAAFARI,” Institute for the Study of War,” 5/12/10

Tavernise, Sabrina, “Many Iraqis See Sectarian Roots in New Killings,” New York Times, 5/27/05

Worth, Robert, “Iraq’s New Presidential Names Shiite Leader as Prime Minister,” New York Times, 4/7/05


Derek Gildea said...

Midway through the piece you say "Sadists" - I think you mean "Sadrists"?

Joel Wing said...

Yikes! Was rushed the morning and didn't have time to proof read. Thanks for catching that. Will correct it.

Anonymous said...

There is actually a few typos, think it's autocorrect, for example, you refer to Baqar Al sadr as Blair? Imagine Blair being from the sadr family, that would be one for the conspiracy theorists.

Joel Wing said...

thanks for catching the other typos. I thought I'd caught all of them. Will proof read and fix once again!