Friday, July 22, 2005

Iraq Today Part I: Who's Running Iraq?

Posted by AmishThrasher at 12:57 pm
Ibrahim al-Jaafari:
The new Prime Minister. But who is he?
From across the globe, the current situation (which Australia is involved with) in Iraq can be confusing. To help, I've decided to run a series here at the AmishThrasher covering the basics of current events in Iraq. In part I, I look at who 'won' the Transitional Elections over there, who they are, and who they represent. Given the critical importance of Iraq as an ongoing issue, if you are unfamiliar with events over there, it is well worth reading on. Note that if you are interested in events in iraq, I highly reccomend Steve Gillaird, who I mentioned here earlier, and Juan Cole, which are excellent resources on current events in Iraq.

First, to understand the balance of power in Iraq, it is critical to understand its demographics:
There are more Arab Iraqi Muslims members of the Shiite sect than there are Arab Iraqi Muslims of the Sunni sect, but there is a large Sunni population as well, made up of mostly Arabs, Kurds, and Turkomans, (Shiite 60% of total population). Small communities of Christians, Baha'is, Mandaeans, Shabaks, and Yezidis also exist. Most Kurds are Sunni Muslims.

Demographic information from the 2004 edition of the CIA's The World Factbook:
* Ethnic groups: Arab 70%-75%, Kurdish 20%-25%, Turkoman, Assyrian or other 25%
* Religions: Muslim 93-95% (Shi'ite 60%, Sunni 40%), Christian,Yezidi or other 5-7%

In other words:
* Approximately 20% of Iraq's Population are Kurdish, who are mostly Sunni Muslims. They are concentrated in the North.
* Approximately 18% of Iraq's Population are Sunni Muslims, who are not Kurdish. They are concentrated in the "Sunni Triangle", which includes Baghdad.
* Approximately 57% of Iraq's Population are Shi'ite Muslims. They are concentrated in the South of the country.
* Approximately 5% of Iraq's Population are none of the above.

Keep these in mind, as (like I said above) it is critical to understanding what's going on Iraq.

Just for some background, Iran is a Shi'ite Islamic state. Similarly, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is a Shi'ite.

In contrast to this, most of the rest of the Islamic world are Sunni Muslims. Similarly, Al Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden, and Saddam Hussein are Sunnis. Even though nearly 60% of Iraq's population is Shi'ite, Saddam Hussein belonged to the 18% who were Sunni.

A good place to start our look into who is in control in Iraq is the election of the Transitional Government in Iraq:
In the January 30, 2005, Legislative elections, the Iraqi people chose representatives for the newly-formed 275-member Iraqi National Assembly. The voting represented the first general election since the United States-led 2003 invasion of Iraq, and marked an important step in the transition of turning control of the country over from US occupation forces to the Iraqis themselves.
Provisional results released on February 13 showed that the United Iraqi Alliance, tacitly backed by Shi'a leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, led with some 48% of the vote. The Democratic Patriotic Alliance of Kurdistan was in second place with some 26% of the vote. Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's party, the Iraqi List, came third with some 14%. In total, twelve parties received enough votes to win a seat in the assembly.

So who is the United Iraqi Alliance; the main political alliance in the transitional coallition currently running Iraq? Well, for a start, they are an alliance of the main Shi'ite parties in Iraq. here are some details:
The United Iraqi Alliance is one of the electoral coalitions that participated in the January 30, 2005, National Assembly election in Iraq.

The alliance is made up of mainstream Shi'ite Islamic religious parties in the Iraqi Interim Government, liberal secularists, nuclear physicist Hussain Shahristani, some independent Sunni representatives and representatives of the radical cleric Moqtada Sadr, a leader of disaffected Shi'a who is suspected by American occupational authorities of having ordered the 2003 murder of Ayatollah Abd al-Majid al-Khoi. The coalition is generally believed to be supported by senior Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most widely respected religious figure in Iraq, and although the Ayatollah has offered no official endorsement, many in the Iraqi public refer to the UIA as "al-Sistani's list."

This alliance has two key parties in control: the SCIRI (or Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq) and the Dawa Party. But who are these groups, and what do they believe? First, the Dawa Party:
The Islamic Dawa Party (Arabic transliteration: al-Da'wa al-Islamiyya) is an Iraqi political organization. It is one if the main Shi'ite parties. In the lead-up to the 2005 Iraqi election it cooperated with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and other Shi'ite groups in the United Iraqi Alliance. The party is led by Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a doctor, who now serves as Iraq's Prime Minister.

The party was formed in the late 1950s by a group of Shi'ite leaders, with Muhammad Baqr al-Sadr, the uncle of Muqtada al-Sadr, playing a prominent role. It was created to combat atheistic communism and Baathist Arab socialism which were then ascendant in Iraq. While founded and led by Shi'ites it worked closely with Sunni Islamic groups and a significant minority of the group's members were Sunnis. Al-Dawa rose to prominence in the 1970s when it waged a terrorist campaign against the Iraqi government. It supported the Islamic Revolution in Iran and in turn received support from the Iranian government, especially during the Iran-Iraq War. Despite this cooperation the Islamic Republic envisioned by al-Sadr differed sharply from that of Khomeini. While Khomeini, and the SCIRI, argued the power of the state should rest with the ulema al-Dawa supported the notion of power resting with the ummah.

Next, the SCIRI:
The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) is an Iraqi political party; its support comes from the country's Shi'ite Muslim community and from their fellow religionists in neighbouring Iran. Prior to August 2003, SCIRI was led by Ayatollah Sayed Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim; its current leader is the ayatollah's brother, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim.

Ayatollah al-Hakim was killed in a car bomb attack in the Iraqi city of Najaf on August 29, 2003. The car bomb exploded as the ayatollah was leaving a religious shrine in the city, just after Friday prayers. At present no group has admitted responsibility for the attack, although many believe it is intersectarian violence.

The party was founded in 1982 after the near annihilation of the Islamic Dawa Party after the latter's failed assassination attempt on Saddam Hussein. It was largely based in Tehran and during the Iran-Iraq War the Iranians recognized the SCIRI as the government of the Islamic Republic of Iraq. The SCIRI ideology was closely based on that of Khomeini, and was far closer to the Iranian model than al-Dawa supporting the control of government by the ulema.

With the fall of Saddam after the 2003 invasion of Iraq the SCIRI quickly rose to prominence, working closely with the other Shi'ite parties. The party leaders toned down many of party beliefs and committed it to democracy and peaceful cooperation. SCIRI's power base is in the Shi'a-majority southern Iraq. It still has an armed wing, the Badr Brigade, with an estimated strength of between 4,000 and 10,000 men. Its Baghdad offices are based in a house that previously belonged to Ba'athist Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz.

A member of this Shi'ite Alliance (including the SCIRI and Dawa), which won 48% of the vote, has become Iraq's Transitional Prime Minister:
Dr Ibrahim al-َAshaiqir al-Jaafari (إبراهيم الأشيقر الجعفري) (born 1947) is the new Prime Minister of Iraq in the Iraqi Transitional Government following the elections of January 2005. He is a Shiite and was previously one of the two vice-presidents of Iraq under the Iraqi Interim Government in 2004, and the main spokesman for the Islamic Dawa Party in Iraq.

Meanwhile, the Shi'ites partners in government, the Kurdish Alliance, have gotten their leader appointed as President:
Jalal Talabani (born in 1933), is a seasoned Iraqi Kurdish politician, who was named State President of Iraq on April 6, 2005 by the Iraqi National Assembly. Talabani is founder and secretary general of one of the main Iraqi Kurdish political parties the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) . He was also a prominent member of the Interim Iraq Governing Council, which was established following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

So an alliance of Pro-Iranian Shi'ite parties is the main group in Iraq's transitional government. Al-Jaafari, the transitional Prime Minister, is a member. The Kurds - as I estimated earlier, around 20% of the population, have also done well: they got Talabani as a Prime Minister. But this leaves the 18% of the population who are Sunni but aren't Kurdish unrepresented. As a result of the "one person, one vote" system that was implemented (rather than having a quota from each major Iraqi demographic group), many boycotted the elections.

And, as we will see in Part II, the power of the Shi'ite religious parties has come to a great benefit to Iran.