TOPICS > Politics

New Prime Minister Nomination May End Impasse

April 21, 2006 at 12:00 AM EDT


MARGARET WARNER: Hi, Borzou. Thanks for being with us.

BORZOU DARAGAHI, Los Angeles Times: Thank you.

MARGARET WARNER: So, al-Jaafari has bowed out, and Jawad al-Maliki is now the Shiite’s new nominee for prime minister. What brought this about?

BORZOU DARAGAHI: Well, I think a few things. There has been mounting international and domestic pressure against Jaafari, people who have tried to get him to bow out.

But I think the key was the senior Shiite clergy in Najaf that finally signaled that maybe it was time for him to go. And then the factor that put it over the hump, so to speak, according to sources in the city of Najaf that we spoke to, was Muqtada al-Sadr, who was Jaafari’s original backer, who recently indicated that he was no longer backing Jaafari.

MARGARET WARNER: And does anyone know what prompted both Sistani and, as you said, the radical Shiite leader al-Sadr to abandon Jaafari after they stood by him all these months as he’s insisted he would not bow out?

BORZOU DARAGAHI: I think the key thing was there was this growing crisis in the country. There is a sense that the country is careening out of control.

And I think a lot of the clergy in Najaf, as well as a lot of other Shiite leaders, were very concerned that other people, Sunnis or secular Iraqis, would use the political vacuum in an effort to stage some kind of move, an extra constitutional move to supersede the results of the election and put someone else altogether as prime minister.

MARGARET WARNER: And so the people you’re talking to there, do they think this is the political breakthrough that everyone’s been waiting for to end the stalemate?

BORZOU DARAGAHI: Well, I think the key difference between Jawad al-Maliki and Ibrahim al-Jaafari’s bids to be prime minister is that Ibrahim al-Jaafari, from the very beginning, he did not have the support of Sunnis, or Kurds, or the secular coalition, led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, whereas this gentleman, Maliki, he’s got it from the very beginning.

He’s got the support of Kurds. He’s got the support of Sunnis. Allawi’s folks say they back him. Even U.S. officials say they’re supportive of him.

MARGARET WARNER: Tell us a little more about Maliki, his experience, his background, his politics.

BORZOU DARAGAHI: Well, Margaret, it’s kind of funny. He’s actually, in many ways, a carbon copy of Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

Both of them were born and raised in the Shiite shrine city of Karbala; both of them as young men joined the outlaw Dawa Party, became Shiite Islamist activists against the government of Saddam Hussein and his Baath party predecessors; both of them fled into exile to Iran; and both of them, with Jawad al-Maliki in Syria and Ibrahim al-Jaafari in Great Britain, eventually became very prominent spokespeople for the Dawa Party.

MARGARET WARNER: But, as you said, Maliki spent many years in Iran. Is he considered close to Iran? Is he considered an Islamist? Is he more of a secularist? Where would you put him on that scale?

BORZOU DARAGAHI: I don’t think he’s close to Iran. I think he’s kind of resentful, like many Dawa Party members are kind of resentful of their experience in Iran, where the Islamic republic tried to control them and tried to subsume them under the banner of another political organization.

They really resisted, and I think those were not good years for these guys. I’m not sure that they — on the other hand, they are very pro-Islamist.

I think the big difference between Jawad al-Maliki and Ibrahim al-Jaafari is in personality. Jawad al-Maliki is a tough guy. He’s very direct; he’s very open; he’s very outspoken. Ibrahim al-Jaafari is kind of bookish, and scholarly, and indecisive. And I think a lot of people feel that Iraq could use someone who’s a little tougher.

MARGARET WARNER: What do you think explains the fact, though, that they’re both from the same — they’re not only both Shiites, but they’re both from the same Shiite party, Dawa. One has been an ally of the other. Why would Maliki be acceptable to Sunnis and Kurds when Jaafari wasn’t?

BORZOU DARAGAHI: I mean, that’s a good question. I think, according to the Sunnis that I spoke to, it’s a question of competence. They feel that — I mean, they know both of these guys really well, not just from the post-2003 invasion period, but from years in exile.

They know these guys very well. And they feel that Jawad al-Maliki is a decision-maker; he’s decisive; you know where he stands on an issue; he’s quick; he’s got a better processor, so to speak, in his chipset.

And they like dealing with someone like that more than they like dealing with someone like Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who’s kind of indecisive, a little bit obscure, a little vague, talks in generalities.

MARGARET WARNER: And how do American diplomats there view him? Are they pleased by this?

BORZOU DARAGAHI: Well, they’re not speaking openly and on the record, but the U.S. Officials that I have spoken to are relieved. They’re just glad it looks like it’s coming to an end.

This crisis has been — it’s been going on and on. And as it’s been going on and on, new types of violence have emerged on the streets of Baghdad and other cities, such as open, running gun battles between neighborhood militias in Sunni neighborhoods and Shiite security forces, various disturbing trends popping up, a sudden outbreak of murders of bakers — believe it or not — as insurgents try to affect the very food supply of the capital.

MARGARET WARNER: And so what happens tomorrow? How is this going to unfold?

BORZOU DARAGAHI: Well, according to the officials that we’ve spoken to and according to things that they’re saying on Arab language TV, there’s going to be a few meetings in the morning where they try to hammer out agreements for who’s going to be president.

That’s going to be probably Jalal Talabani, the Kurdish leader, as well as the two vice presidents, and a name for what’s probably going to be a Sunni speaker of the house and two deputy speakers of the house.

And then they’re going to convene the parliament; at this point, it’s scheduled for 3:00 in the afternoon. And they’re going to talk about these positions, maybe briefly. Maybe some people will make a couple of speeches.

And then, if all things work out according to plan, they’re going to take a vote and approve these three big leadership positions and four less big leadership positions.

MARGARET WARNER: And I guess we can all hope a new era for Iraq. Well, Borzou Daragahi of the Los Angeles Times, thanks.

BORZOU DARAGAHI: It’s been my pleasure.