Accessibility links

Breaking News

Profile: Ibrahim al-Ja'fari

(file photo) Many would say that Ibrahim al-Ja'fari is the logical choice to lead Iraq's transitional stage. Long viewed as a man of principle, he has always stood firm in his call for a democratic and pluralistic Iraq and has never shied away from expressing his opinions on the future of Iraq -- even when those opinions challenged the Iraqi opposition, and, at times, U.S. policy.

Al-Ja'fari's main rival for the position was Iraqi National Congress (INC) head Ahmad Chalabi; however, he dropped out of the running during negotiations within the United Iraqi Alliance early on 22 February. Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi announced on 21 February that his party has nominated him for the post of transitional prime minister.

Ibrahim al-Ja'fari was born in Karbala in 1947. He earned a medical degree from Mosul University in 1974. Al-Ja'fari joined the Islamic Al-Da'wah (Call) Party in the 1960s at a time when the party grew more politicized in the wake of the Ba'athist ascendancy to power.

Opposition In Exile

Exiled to Iran during the Ba'athist crackdown on the party in 1980, al-Ja'fari later moved to the United Kingdom in 1989. During the Iraqi opposition's years of exile, he was vocal in his belief that a democratic Iraq should not emulate an Iranian-style theocracy. At the time, he also stood against U.S. or international intervention in Iraq, preferring instead for an Iraqi-led toppling of the regime. Al-Ja'fari told London's "Al-Hayat" in January 1999: "We view the future of Iraq from an Islamic standpoint as well as from the prism of our national values.... We will do all we possibly can in order to be able to knock out the dictatorship that had been imposed on our people by Saddam [Hussein] and then go on to supplant it with a constitution-based multiparty system of government under which the people of the nation must breathe freer and exercise their inalienable right to put in place a government that they should choose themselves."

Regarding ongoing U.S. military activities against the Hussein regime, al-Ja'fari said in the same 1999 interview that he believed such attacks were designed "to take out our nation's economic and civilian structure." "We do not and will not tolerate such rocket attacks on our country. This is terrorism pure and simple. It has brought on our patient people the worst kind of woes and torment and spread fear and panic."
"A successful politician is one who levels with his people and who has flexibility and frankness." - al-Ja'fari

Widely viewed as a conciliator, al-Ja'fari called in 1999 for disparate opposition parties to form a united position against the Hussein regime, while maintaining their distance from U.S. attempts to court the opposition. It was his belief at the time that the involvement of any outside party in the opposition's activities would affect the opposition's ability to operate independently, and potentially discredit its reputation inside Iraq. Al-Ja'fari was also opposed to the sanctions regime, which he said contributed to the Iraqi people's suffering, rather than alleviating it.

That same year, al-Ja'fari was also a signatory to a letter published in London's "Dar Al-Islam" magazine that chastised the Iranian regime for its treatment of Iraqis living in Iraq. The letter claimed that the regime's harassment and expulsion of Iraqis called into question the credibility of the Islamic Revolution in Iran and its claim to be "a haven for the oppressed and protector of the deprived in the world."

In January 2000, Al-Da'wah Party spokesman Muhammad Mahdi al-Asefi resigned after members of the party's leadership rejected his call for the appointment of a representative of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to the party's political bureau. Al-Ja'fari told London's "Al-Zaman" in a 25 January 2000 interview that the party's political leadership did not want to link itself to the Islamic leadership in Iran. He told "Al-Zaman" a week later that al-Asefi "thinks that there should be actual implementation of what Khamenei thinks or what is thought by any person who represents Khamenei in the various positions of the party. This will ensure the relationship between the post of Velayat-e Faqih [rule of the supreme jurisprudence as practiced in Iran] and the party post." The party rejected al-Asefi's proposal. "In our opinion, the centralization or decentralization of the Islamic state is an issue that falls under Islamic jurisprudence and thinking. This is based on determining the Islamic rulings that allow or disallow the plurality of the state," al-Ja'fari said.

Consensual Politics

Al-Ja'fari stressed to "Al-Zaman" that Al-Da'wah is "an Iraqi movement in the Iraqi arena." He also emphasized his party's approach to politics that many would later describe as al-Ja'fari's own style. "When Al-Da'wah proposes a plan or is a key partner to a plan...[it] works on expanding what is common between it and other political parties, whether they are Islamists or non-Islamists. It does this so as to ensure that the desired [result] has a broad base of agreement," he said. "A successful politician is one who levels with his people and who has flexibility and frankness."

By early 2002, al-Ja'fari was still opposed to a U.S. overthrow of the Hussein regime. As the Iraqi opposition worked with the U.S. administration to form working groups ahead of a possible U.S.-led invasion, the party maintained its stance, saying a solution would not come from abroad, but rather from inside Iraq, "Al-Hayat" reported on 12 April 2002.

Al-Ja'fari also voiced his skepticism over plans for a major opposition conference in the fall of 2002, telling London's "Al-Majallah" in October of that year that he believed the conference's preparatory committee, which was made up of opposition parties Iraqi National Congress, Constitutional Monarchy Movement, Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), Iraqi National Accord, Kurdistan Democratic Party, and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, was undemocratic and would, he predicted, dictate its recommendations and decisions on the other Iraqi opposition parties. He called for an expanded preparatory committee that would reflect all trends in Iraqi society.

In reality, "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on 11 October 2002, those groups opposed to the conference were weary of the Iraqi National Congress's close relationship with the United States and the former's attempts to practice custodianship over the other parties. The conference was finally held in December 2002, with Al-Da'wah and several other groups boycotting participation. Al-Ja'fari did begin a series of meetings with U.S. officials, however, while continuing to express his reservations about a U.S.-led invasion.

Forming A Transitional Government

When opposition parties began discussions for the convening of a national conference that might form a transitional government in May 2003, al-Ja'fari told "Al-Zaman" that "The [Al-Da'wah] party calls for the formation of a provisional Iraqi government consisting of a diverse structure that represents the Iraqi street...comprising all the political, ethnic, and denominational sectors of Iraqi society." He later joined the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council in July 2003, and acted as the council's first rotational president. In that position, he initiated contact with Iraq's neighbors, and helped form a constitutional committee on the council. He was one of the first to call for nationwide elections in Iraq, telling in December 2003, "Any elections are better than none at all."

In February 2004, al-Ja'fari took the lead in trying to heal a long-standing Shi'ite rift that reemerged between SCIRI and rebel cleric Muqtada al-Sadr by calling for a united stand. He adopted the principle of federalism, telling Jeddah's "Ukaz" that month: "Federalism will be a good thing if it safeguards Iraq's unity and revolves around the sovereignty and unity of Iraq's soil, skies, resources, and people.... Federalism does not violate our history or our Islamic faith and beliefs. It should be looked at objectively...."

Al-Ja'fari was subsequently appointed interim vice president in July 2004. He supported the need for a strong security apparatus, and the imposition of martial law as a necessity under the current security environment. One of his principal tasks was mediating the August standoff between multinational forces and militants loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr in Al-Najaf.

Throughout the two years since the fall of the Hussein regime, al-Ja'fari has proven himself to be a leader who seeks to be inclusive. He has strong relations with Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, but has not been one to kowtow to the ayatollah's every demand. Al-Ja'fari stood in support of the Transitional Administrative Law despite al-Sistani's objection to it, and reportedly has been criticized in recent months by some within the religious establishment in Al-Najaf for not taking a firm Islamist stand on some issues.

Al-Ja'fari has said recently that if he was prime minister he would work to include Sunnis in the political process. "I believe we should include them in the government," he said. "I cannot imagine a government without Sunnis, Shi'ites, and Kurds because they are the three main components of the Iraqi society."

For the latest news and analysis on Iraq, see RFE/RL's webpage on "The New Iraq".

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

If you are in Russia and hold a Russian passport or are a stateless person residing permanently in Russia, please note that you could face fines or imprisonment for sharing, liking, commenting on, or saving our content, or for contacting us.

To find out more, click here.