June 16, 2006 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 281

The New Iraqi Government—Central Themes and Key Figures

June 16, 2006 | By Dr. Nimrod Raphaeli
Iraq | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 281


On December 15, 2005, amidst great expectations that their country would finally lay solid foundations for a democratic regime, Iraqis went to the polls to elect a four-year parliament and government. Although the elections proceeded fairly smoothly, it took five months after the results were announced, during which period there was escalating violence and rapidly deteriorating economic performance, for a new government to be formed. The delay in forming the government was not due to substantive political issues; rather it derived from political maneuvering among competing political figures - evidence of the fragility of the political culture of a country emerging from decades of a totalitarian political order, three recent wars, and two major defeats. Nevertheless, the process was conducted within the bounds of appropriate political culture uncommon in the Middle East, and the winner was Nuri al-Maliki from al-Da'wa Islamic Party, one of the elements of the United Iraqi Alliance (a Shi'ite alliance of three parties and independents).

Third Prime Minister Since the Transfer of Sovereignty

Al-Maliki is the third prime minister in Iraq since sovereignty was formally transferred to the Iraqis by the occupation powers on June 28, 2004. On that date, a provisional government was selected under Dr. Ayad Allawi. It was replaced by the transitional government, under Dr. Ibrahim al-Ja'fari, which assumed power in April 2005, following the elections of January 30, 2005. And now comes what was meant to be a four-year government under al-Maliki which followed the parliamentary elections held on December 15, 2005. The new government is the first post-Saddam government to be established in conformity with the provisions of the new constitution approved by the Iraqi people in a referendum on October 15, 2005. The al-Maliki government received a parliamentary vote of confidence on May 20, 2006. All three prime ministers have been Shi'a.

Other Shi'a Prime Ministers

Although the Sunnis have dominated the political scene in Iraq since the establishment of monarchy in 1921 following four centuries of Ottoman rule which was Sunni as well, there were, nevertheless, four Shi'ite prime ministers during the monarchy and another three following the establishment of the republic on July 14, 1958. However, none of these prime ministers served more than a few months, and none was a significant figure in the manner of Nuri al-Sa'id [a Sunni] who was the most dominant political figure in Iraq throughout the era of monarchy, until its overthrow and his subsequent murder in July 1958.

The New Government

Al-Maliki submitted to the parliament his new government, which comprises 35 ministers with portfolios, two ministers of state without portfolios, in addition to the prime minister himself and his two deputies. Three key portfolios - interior, defense, and national security - initially remained vacant and were filled on an interim basis by the prime minister and his two deputies.

Fortuitously for the prime minister, the day the announcement was made about the killing of abu-Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, the parliament approved, on June 8, the candidates for the three remaining unfilled posts, namely those of interior, defense and internal security. The three new ministers are Jawad al-Boulani, Abd al-Qadir Mohammad Jassim al-Ubeidi and Shirwan al-Wa'ili, respectively. It is noteworthy that the prime minister called on his ministers of interior and defense not to take any action that violates human rights. [1] Perhaps that was a warning that the death squads rumored to have operated under the former minister of interior should cease to exist.

The government has 40 ministers in addition to the prime minister and his two deputies. It is the largest Iraqi government ever. Ten of the ministers in the al-Ja'fari cabinet, notably the minister of foreign affairs, the minister of finance (formerly minister of interior) and the minister of water resources, serve in the new government. Altogether, Al-Maliki has appointed 30 ministers, including the three most recent appointments. [2] The chart below lists the ministers, their portfolios and their party affiliation.

For a biographical note on al-Maliki and his key ministers see Appendix.

Distribution of Ministerial Posts by Political Party (Name and Position)
National Iraqi Kurdish Union Accord Iraqiyah Alliance
Nuri al-Maliki
Prime Minister
Barham Saleh
Deputy PM
Salam al-Zawba'i
Deputy PM
Hashim al-Shibli
Jawad al-Bulani
Hoshyar Zebari
Foreign Affairs
Jassim al-Obeidi
Mohammad Allawi Communications
Shirwan al-Wa'ili
National Security
Fawzi al-Hariri
Industry & Mines
Abd Dhiab al-Ujaili
Higher Education
Wajdan Michail
Human Rights
Baqir Solagh
Bayan Dizayee
Housing & Construction
Rafi' Al-Issawi*
Foreign Affairs
Muhammad A. Al- Uraibi*
Minister of State
Hussein Shahristani
Ali Baban
Sa'ad Taha al-Hashemi
Ra'id Fahmi Jahid
Science & Technology
Karim Wahid
Latif Rashid
Water Resources

Ali al-Shemari
Neerman Othman

Khudair al-Khaza'i

Abd Fallah al-Sudani

Ya'rub Nathim al-Aboudi

Karim Mahdi Saleh

Abd al-Samad Sultan
Emigration & Deportees

Liwaa Sumaisam
Tourism & Archeology

As'ad K. al-Hashemi
Minister of Culture

Jassim M. Ja'far
Youth & Sport

Safa Al-Safi
Parliamentary Affairs

Akram al-Hakim*
National Dialogue

Riad Gharib
Municipalities and Public Works

Hassan Radhi al-Sari*
State Minister

Shi'ite Islamic Labor Organization Ministers (Independent)

‘Adel al-Asadi*
Civil Society
Faten Abd Al-Raham Mahmoud*
Woman Affaris

Abd al-Samad Rahman Sultan
Emigration and Deportees

Mohammad Ali Ahmad*
Minister of State

*State Minister

None of the ministers in the new government served in the Iraqi Governing Council under Ambassador Paul Bremer and, therefore, none is "tainted" by having worked under the occupation government. Whether this was deliberate or coincidental could only be a subject for speculation.

The "Sovereign Ministries"

From the outset the new Iraqi government was to be large enough to accommodate the demands of the various elements of the national coalition. These demands were met relatively quickly. However, it was the distribution of what the Iraqis refer to as "sovereign ministries," namely the very important ministries of foreign affairs, finance, defense, interior, national security and oil, that prolonged the disagreement between the parties.

In particular, the main controversy centered on the individuals who would occupy the three critical security ministries, interior, defense, and national security. Given the experience, most unfavorable, with the outgoing Minister of Interior Jabr Solagh who was the commander of the Badr Militia, associated with the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), Iraqi leaders have reached an agreement that the occupants of these three security ministries should be politically independent and definitely not associated with any militia.

While it was agreed early on that the United Iraqi Alliance will keep the Ministries of Interior and National Security and that the Sunni National Accord List will receive the post of the minister of defense, each group exercised repeatedly veto power over candidates put up by other groups. In fact, even within the United Iraqi Alliance itself, there was considerable infighting about the candidates for the two security ministries assigned to them.

The Kurds, on their part, insisted that Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari keep his post while deliberately excluding themselves from any security ministry. With their own homeland secured by their pesh merga, the Kurds will have nothing to gain if they were thrust into one of these three ministries that would put them into direct and daily conflict with the Shi'a, the Sunnis, or both whose support they will need on the vital issue of Kirkuk. This subject will be taken up by the new parliament and is likely to be divisive since there is disagreement among the Iraqi political forces about the future of this oil-rich city.

Sadrist Ministers

Being a part of the United Iraqi Alliance, Muqtada al-Sadr's group received three cabinet posts - for electricity, transport, and health. These are ministries which provide services to a large number of people which fit the populist nature of the Sadrist movement. Indeed, shortly after the Sadist minister, Ali al-Shari, took over the ministry of health, a whole set of rules was introduced with the regard to the provision of Islamic medicine. For example, female medical staff in government hospitals are now required to be veiled. However, consistent with al-Sadr's typical inconsistency he has ordered the three ministers to resign and be replaced by three others.

The Issue of Dual Nationality

The recently published regulations regarding those with dual nationality may have also complicated the selection of candidates. Under the new Iraqi constitution an Iraqi citizen with a second citizenship acquired while living in exile may not serve as president, vice president, prime minister, or minister or occupy a senior security position for at least ten years after surrendering his/her non-Iraqi citizenship. [3]


Although, under the new Iraqi constitution, 25 percent of all members of Parliament are women, they fared poorly in the new cabinet where only four of the 40 ministers are women - two from the Kurdish alliance, one from the Accord Party (Sunni) and one from the secular Iraqiya list - as against six in the previous cabinet. There are no female ministers from the United Iraqi Alliance, the largest political group in parliament. No women were selected to occupy any of the fifteen so-called "sovereign" posts: the president; the prime minister and the speaker of the parliament and the two respective deputies of each; and the six sovereign cabinet posts of foreign affairs, finance, defense, interior, national security, and oil. Given his religious background, it is possible that al-Maliki prefers to keep women away from the public eye, or, as a female independent member of parliament has suggested, he may think that women are not competent for the political arena. [4]

The Government Priorities

In an article "Our Strategy for a Democratic Iraq," published in the Washington Post, [5] Nuri al-Maliki establishes the three priorities of his government: (a) to "kick-start" the reconstruction of the country, including building up the military and policy forces and fostering national reconciliation; (b) to create security in the capital Baghdad and confront the ethnic cleansing; and (c) to reestablish state monopoly of weapons and disband the militias. The strategy also calls for fighting corruption from the top down. In fact, insurgency and corruption are interrelated as they feed upon each other: corruption generates a lot of funding for the insurgency and the insurgency creates the conditions under which corruption prospers.

The challenges which al-Maliki has laid out are difficult ones, particularly the disbanding of the militias since they are all controlled by his partners in the government. But the militias must be disbanded, lest violence and counter-violence escalate into a civil war. By contrast, al-Maliki was able to move quickly on the reconciliation front by releasing 2500 prisoners who have not been tried nor have blood on their hands. [6].


Critics might argue that the formation of the new government has taken too much time. Under normal circumstances, it would be expected that a political party that had emerged from national elections only a handful of votes short of an absolute majority would proceed to form a government forthwith. But the conditions in Iraq are not normal; experience with the democratic process of give and take has been absent for decades; and the challenge has been not simply to form a government which commands a majority but to form a government that enjoys sufficiently broad national consensus to draw into its orbit forces that have been suspected of providing support to insurgency.

Also, it is to the credit of the Iraqis that at no time during this arduous process of putting together a national government has any political entity threatened to use force to impose its views on others. At no time, for example, did anyone threaten Dr. al-Ja'fari, who obviously was unable to form a government given the majority of the votes in Parliament which lined up against him, with non-parliamentary measures.

The extensive discussions that led to the establishment of the government was a lesson for the Iraqis about negotiating political deals, but it was also a lesson that has caused so much discomfort to the leaders in neighboring countries accustomed to passing command from the top down and to hear no one's voice by their own.


Biographical Highlights [7]

*Prime Minister - Nuri Kamel Mohammad Hassan al-Maliki.

Born in 1950 in the district of al-Hindiya which is located in the governorate of Karbala but is also close to the city of Hilla in the governorate of Babylon; hence, the confusion about his birth place being alternatively mentioned as Hilla or Karbala. He is married, with four daughters and one son.

Al-Maliki descends from a well-known literary family. His grandfather Mohammad Hassan abu-Almahasen, a religious scholar and a poet, served as a Minister of Education in 1923, during the monarchy. Like most Iraqis, al-Maliki is also associated with a tribe, his being Beni-Malek, with roots in Hijaz (Saudi Arabia), Yemen and parts of southern Iraq.


B.A. from a religious college in Baghdad

MA. Salah al-Din University in Erbil. His thesis dealt with his grandfather's poetry and was dedicated to his grandfather: "To the creative poet who turned his poetry into guns and spears for fighting in the fields of honor."

Political Activities

While still a student, al-Maliki joined the then-outlawed al-Da'wa Islamic Party, one of the oldest Shi'ite parties in Iraq, established in 1957 by the Shi'ite cleric and scholar Mohammad Baqir al-Sadr. In 1980, Saddam Hussein issued one of the most draconic political laws, calling for the execution of all members of al-Da'wa Islamic Party and anyone spreading its ideology. To protect himself, al-Maliki escaped to Iran with the leadership of the Da'wa Party. In the mid-1980s the Da'wa Party split between those who supported the recruitment of the party members into the Iranian army to fight the Iraqi army and those who were opposed to the scheme. Al-Maliki and Dr. Ibrahim al-Ja'fari were in the latter group and moved to Syria. There al-Maliki became the editor of the party's newspaper al-Maw'qef [the Position]. While in exile he used the name of Jawad al-Maliki which he continued to use until he was selected as the new prime minister of Iraq, at which time he assumed his original name-Nuri.

Following the fall of the Saddam regime in April 2003, al-Maliki returned to Iraq where he was quickly made the deputy chairman of the de-Ba'thification Commission under Dr. Ahmad Chalabi. He was elected to the National Assembly in January 2005 and served as chairman of its defense and security committee.

In many ways, Mr. al-Maliki is something of an unknown quantity. He was not a member of the al-Ja'fari government and his leadership qualities have not been tested. Further, it is not clear to what extent his religious education and his exposure to the Syrian pan-Arabism may have shaped his political vision or how committed will he be to the democratic process. He is considered pragmatic, moderate and "a man of his word."

Unlike his predecessor, Dr. Ibrahim al-Ja'fari, al-Maliki is not known for his warm relations with Iran, having spent most of his time in exile in Syria. Indeed, a senior Iranian official told the London daily al-Sharq al-Awsat of Iranian reservations about al-Maliki's government, particularly with regard to a number of the cabinet ministers. The Iranians were apparently disappointed with the transfer of Baqir Jaber Solag from the Ministry of Interior where he was in control of the national police force to the Ministry of Finance. [8]

Although he was awarded a vote of confidence by the Iraqi parliament, al-Maliki, after weeks of political haggling, was still unable to fill three key cabinet posts -Defense, Interior and National Security. Nibras Kazimi, an Iraqi critic of al-Maliki, has argued that Maliki "is just not cut out for such a role in history." He has said that al-Maliki "can be petty and quarrelsome" - qualities which may land him into trouble with "the out-sized egos of Iraqi politicians." [9] Certainly, though, al-Maliki is entitled to a period of grace before his handling of the affairs of state can be evaluated. It is simply too early to judge his qualities as a leader.

*Deputy Prime Minister - Dr. Barham Saleh

Born in Iraqi Kurdistan in 1960


BsC, Cardiff University (U.K.) in civil engineering

PhD, University of Liverpool, Statistics and Computer Sciences

Political Activities

Joined the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in 1977 and was arrested several times by the Saddam regime. Left Iraq in 1979 and became the spokesman for PUK in London. From 1991 to 2001 he represented the PUK and the regional government in Kurdistan in the United States.

Served as a Deputy Prime Minister in the Ayad Allawi's interim government in 2004. He was the most senior Iraqi official to bid Paul Bremer good-bye.

*Deputy Prime Minister - Salam Zaki Ali Fadhli al-Zawba'i

Born in Baghdad in 1959


BsC Mosul University, Agricultural College, Soil Science

MsC (with distinction) in 1988 in soil fertility and fertilizers (denied access to graduate school for five years for refusing to join the Ba'th Party)

Ph.D., Baghdad University in soil science and water

Work Experience

Primarily academic, including a stint as associate professor for social science in al-Anbar University. Carried out diverse research projects on the use of fertilizers for different kinds of crops and soils.

It is noteworthy that in his official autobiographical note he emphasizes his professional work in the fields of agriculture, irrigation, fertilizers, food production and farm fishing. There is no record of political activity during or in-post Saddam Iraq prior to his selection as deputy prime minister.

*Minister of Foreign Affairs -Hoshyar Zebari

Born in Aqra, Iraqi Kurdistan in 1953


BA - Political Science, Jordan University in 1976

MA -Sociology, Essex University (UK) in 1979

Political Activities

1979 - Member of the Central Committee of Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP)

1979-81 -Representative of KDP in Europe

1988-2003 - Responsible for the external relations bureau of KDP

2004-present Foreign Minister in the cabinets of Allawi, al-Ja'fari and now al-Maliki

The Sunnis have objected to the fact that both the president of the republic and the foreign minister are Kurds and, hence, are inappropriate representatives for Iraq, an Arab country. As a compromise, a new minister for foreign relations was appointed whose portfolio is limited to Iraq's relations with the Arab countries.

Zebari has been the Foreign Minister in all three post-Saddam governments and, as such, he was referred to as the Dean of the Ministers. [10]

*Abd al-Qadr Mohammad al-Ubeidi - Minister of Defense

Al-Ubeidi is a former general in the Iraqi army. He graduated from the Military Academy in 1971 and served in various command positions until 1992 when he was forced to retire for opposing the invasion of Kuwait. Two years later he was court-martialed and was sentenced to seven years in prison. His house was confiscated and he was deprived of pension benefits.

After the invasion of Iraq he rejoined the army in 2003 to serve as chief of operations in the military high command, followed by an assignment as commander of the army in the western party of Iraq. Until his appointment as minister of defense he served as the commander of the land forces.

Upon his appointment as minister of defense al-Ubeidi promised to serve as Iraqi first and foremost. He said tribal, religious or sectarian will not enter his decisions. He gallantly promised to retire if he found himself incompetent for the job. [11]

*Minister of Interior -Jawad Kadhem Aidan al-Boulani

Born in 1960 the Diwaniya Province, in south central Iraq


Bs.C. Mechnical engineering, 1984, Technological University of Baghdad

Professional Experience

Retired engineering officer in the Iraqi Air Force. Worked as a consulting engineer in various industrial projects.

Political Activities

Alternate member in the Iraqi Governing Council

Member in the Provisional National Assembly and chairman of the Water Committee.

In his brief statement to the press after his appointment al-Boulani promised equal treatment of all Iraqi citizens by the police force, the respect of human rights and the fight against terrorism. [12] Unlike his predecessor, al-Boulani does not have connection with the militias and is perhaps at best an apolitical figure.

*Minister of National Security -Sherwan Kamel Sabti al-Farajallah al-Wa'ili

Born in Dhi Qar Province in 1957. Married with six children


Bs.C Electrical Engineering

Doctoral student in international law, Arab-British Academy

Professional Experience

Retired Brig.-General, Iraqi Army

Chief of the Hattit Clan/Bani Wa'il Tribe

Member of Parliament

*Minister of Finance -Sayyed Baqir Solagh Jabr al-Zubeidi

Born in Misan Province in 1946


B.A. civil engineering in 1969

Professional Experience

Left Iraq in 1982 after 12 members of his family were executed. Settled in Beirut and became director of the Jihad [holy war] Information Office and chief editor of Adhwa (highlights).

1984 - Member of the Political Bureau of the Jihad Movement

1988 - Representative of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) in Syria and Lebanon

2003 - Alternate Member in the Governing Council

2004 - Minister of Construction and Housing in the Allawi Government

2005-May 2006 - Minister of Interior. Accused by the Sunnis of running death squads under the auspices of the ministry of interior. Sunnis demanded his removal from the Ministry of Interior.

*Nimrod Raphaeli is Senior Analyst of MEMRI's Middle East Economic Studies Program.

[1] Al-Mada (Baghdad), June 10, 2006.

[2] Al-Sabah (Baghdad), May 21, 2006.

[3] Al-Zaman (Baghdad), April 16, 2006.

[4] New York Times (U.S.), April 23, 2006.

[5] The Washington Post (U.S.), June 9, 2006.

[6] Al-Mada (Baghdad), June 6, 2006.

[7] Most of the material in the section was collected by MEMRI's Baghdad office.

[8] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), May 21, 2006. Regarding al-Maliki keeping his distance from Iran, see "The Personal Identity Card of Ustadh [Jawad] al-Maliki,

[9] Nibras Kazimi, "Dangerous Lineup," The New York Sun (U.S.), April 26, 2006.

[10] Al-Sabah (Baghdad), May 23, 2006.


[12] Al-Sabah (Baghdad), June 10, 2006.

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