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Viewing cable 06BAGHDAD402, SHIA ISLAMIST PM CONTENDERS: NO PERFECT CANDIDATE

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06BAGHDAD402 2006-02-10 08:51 2011-08-30 01:44 SECRET Embassy Baghdad
VZCZCXRO2352
PP RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHIHL RUEHKUK RUEHMOS
DE RUEHGB #0402/01 0410851
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
P 100851Z FEB 06
FM AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2608
INFO RHEHNSC/WHITE HOUSE NSC WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUCNRAQ/IRAQ COLLECTIVE
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 04 BAGHDAD 000402 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/10/2026 
TAGS: PGOV PREL IZ
SUBJECT: SHIA ISLAMIST PM CONTENDERS: NO PERFECT CANDIDATE 
 
REF: A. BAGHDAD 148 
     B. BAGHDAD 294 
 
Classified By: Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, reason 1.4 (b) and (d) 
 
1. (S) SUMMARY:  None of the contenders for the Shia 
Islamist Coalition's prime minister nominee is ideal, and 
we will need to convince whoever the nominee is to 
construct a good set of structural agreements and program 
plans to address Iraq's deep problems.  SCIRI's Adil Abd' 
al-Mahdi appears to have the best executive skills, based 
on his performance as Minister of Finance in the Allawi 
Government.  However, Sunni Arab political leaders would 
prefer Shia Islamist Fadhila Party candidate Nadeem al- 
Jabiri over Abd al-Mahdi.  In addition, the Kurdish KDP, 
worried about Iranian influence, does not want Abd al-Mahdi 
as Prime Minister coupled with Jalal Talabani as President. 
Moreover, Ayad Allawi has stated his unwillingness to serve 
in a government headed by Abd al-Mahdi. 
 
2.  (S)  SUMMARY CONTINUED:  Incumbent PM Jafari's 
performance in office has offered little to justify his 
continued tenure.  Nonetheless, he enjoys strong public 
support based on his excellent communication skills.  While 
Jafari has always been open to listening to what USG 
officials have to say and is not pro-Iranian, he rarely 
follows through on politically difficult requests. 
Fadhila's Nadeem al-Jabiri appears to have the broadest 
cross-sectarian appeal and has demonstrated a readiness to 
consult closely with the United States.  However, al-Jabiri 
has weak support among the general public, the Shia 
Coalition, and even his own party.  TNA Deputy Speaker 
Shahristani appears to have a smaller chance of being the 
Shia Coalition nominee.  If the Coalition cannot agree, we 
could imagine influential Dawa figure Jawad al-Maliki 
emerging as a new contender.  Both Shahristani and al- 
Maliki support an especially hard line against Sunni Arab 
insurgents, and the premiership of either could increase 
sectarian differences.  None of the Shia Islamist Coalition 
candidates for premiership presents an obvious quick fix to 
Iraq's political dysfunction.  The next prime minister will 
play an important role in Iraq's political transition, but 
the future government's success will depend on the 
institutions of the new government as well as the 
individual at its helm (septel).  END SUMMARY 
 
---------------------------- 
ABD AL-MAHDI:  BEST EXECUTIVE? 
---------------------------- 
 
3. (S) Adil Abd al-Mahdi could potentially act as a 
stabilizing influence in government if his performance as 
Prime Minister matched that of his ITG tenure as Minister 
of Finance.  Embassy Baghdad found Abd al-Mahdi to be an 
effective Minister of Finance during the Allawi government. 
As a technocrat, he has worked well with the U.S., 
especially on economic issues when he was Finance Minister. 
He worked closely with the Embassy's Economic section on 
restoring Iraqi relations with the IMF and the Tokyo Donors 
Conference, and assisted U.S. political goals during the 
constitution negotiations.  He is a senior member of the 
driving force in the Shia Islamist Coalition (List 555), 
the SCIRI party.  He has the support of Iraqi President and 
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) leader Jalal Talabani. 
Sunni Arab leaders like Tariq al-Hashimi and Khalaf al- 
Ayyan tell us that they prefer the Fadhila Party candidate, 
Nadeem al-Jabiri, over Abd al-Mahdi, but they prefer Abd 
al-Mahdi over incumbent PM Jafari. 
 
-------------------------- 
DRAWBACKS FOR ABD AL-MAHDI 
-------------------------- 
 
4.  (S)  However, Kurdish President and KDP leader Barzani 
fears Iranian influence and does not want Abd al-Mahdi as 
Prime Minister if Jalal Talabani is President.  Moreover, 
former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi has privately told 
Ambassador that he would not serve under Abd al-Mahdi. 
There also are questions about Abd al-Mahdi's standing 
within SCIRI; a PolOff who worked closely with Abd al-Mahdi 
during the constitution drafting process reported that he 
consistently deferred to SCIRI leader Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim 
on major decisions. 
 
5. (S) Abd al-Mahdi's key difficulty is the public 
perception of SCIRI as being too closely tied to Iran -- a 
cause for concern to the major political forces outside, 
and some within, the Shia Islamist Coalition.  He appears 
to enjoy a good relationship with Tehran ? PolOffs report 
that during a recent trip to Iran President Ahmedinejad 
referred to him as "his professor on Iraq."  The extent to 
 
BAGHDAD 00000402  002 OF 004 
 
 
which he would push back against hard Iranian pressure is 
not clear.  Compared to either Hakim or Jafari, Abd al- 
Mahdi has a low public profile.  A recent poll among Shia 
regions showed that 77 percent of respondents preferred 
Jafari as Prime Minister; only two percent preferred Abd 
al-Mahdi. 
 
6. (S) In addition, questions remain as to whether he could 
effectively control the Badr Organization; it is not clear 
if Abd al-Mahdi could compel Badr Organization head Hadi 
al-Amari to relent on his militia's activities.  Given 
SCIRI's links to Badr Corps, we doubt Abd al-Mahdi would 
encourage serious investigations of alleged human rights 
abuses at the Interior Ministry.  SCIRI's holding the Prime 
Ministry would lessen its claim to have a security minister 
slot; this could give it less influence over day-to-day 
operations than it has now with the Interior Minister Bayan 
Jabr.  However, in any real internal government conflict, 
the prime minister holds the top cards. 
 
7.  (S)  As Prime Minister, Abd al-Mahdi likely would 
support al-Hakim's desire to move ahead rapidly on 
establishment of at least one federal region in southern 
Iraq.  Such a move would set the stage for a divisive clash 
with the Sunni Arabs.  If Abd al-Mahdi could generate more 
SCIRI outreach to Sunni Arabs he could alleviate some (not 
all) Sunni Arab concerns about Iranian manipulation of 
SCIRI. 
 
-------------------------------------- 
PM JAFARI:  GOLDEN TONGUE, LEADEN HAND 
---------------------------------------- 
 
8. (C) Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari has demonstrated an 
unwillingness or inability to unify Iraqi political parties 
except in their opposition to him.  The Kurds have publicly 
expressed their disappointment with his leadership; he and 
Kurdish President Jalal Talabani had difficulty working 
together.  Jafari is an ineffective manager who has 
underperformed as Prime Minister: he failed to deliver on a 
promised USD 50 million to Tal?Afar for reconstruction, to 
reform the public distribution system, and to abide by IMF 
preconditions by pushing through the fuel import 
liberalization law (exacerbating the fuel crisis).  During 
his administration, Jafari has been unready to engage on 
Shia militia issues.  His inability to manage his ministers 
became apparent when six of them disobeyed his direct order 
to remain in-country and chose instead to leave with 
President Talabani to attend the UNGA.  He is unwilling to 
make hard decisions on important issues, preferring to push 
them further down the road. 
 
9.  (S)  Jafari's best asset is his ability to speak to the 
Iraqi public.  He regularly appears in the media and IRI 
polling data indicates that Jafari is the most popular 
politician in Iraq.  He has excellent public speaking 
skills, and a poetic command of Arabic.  On a recent trip 
to Ramadi (see ref a), he used his rhetorical skill to sway 
a skeptical Sunni Arab audience. 
 
10. (C) We have seen no evidence that Jafari is heavily 
influenced by Iran; he once asked Iran for compensation for 
the Iraq-Iran war.  He has also shown no willingness to 
engage Iran on a renegotiation of the 1975 Shatt al-Arab 
agreement.  While Jafari has always been open to listening 
to what USG officials have to say, only on a few occasions 
has he responded to difficult requests from us.  For 
example, he reluctantly authorized Ahmed Chalabi to run the 
energy ministries and was lukewarm on instituting an 
increase in gas prices.  He ignored our requests about de- 
Baathification, sensing the Shia political wind was blowing 
in the opposite direction.  He was also willing to 
completely reorganize the top levels of the MOD and 
reassign division commanders right before the election on 
sectarian/partisan grounds. 
 
11. (C) With a renewed Jafari administration, SCIRI would 
probably insist on heading one of the security ministries. 
His debt to the Sadrists for their support will also 
guarantee their control of the prominent service ministries 
and make it unlikely that Jafari would crack down on the 
Mahdi Army (just as it is difficult to imagine Abd al-Mahdi 
cracking down on Badr "Organization" abuses).  Jafari?s 
record on investigating current allegations of SCIRI- 
affiliated MOI abuse of detainees was weak and ineffectual. 
Sunni Arabs are more likely to balk on supporting a Jafari 
government and could therefore seek to draw out the 
negotiations on ministerial candidates.  In fact, the Sunni 
Arabs, SCIRI, and the Kurds could probably promote harder- 
line candidates to take advantage of what would widely be 
perceived as weak Prime Ministerial leadership. 
 
BAGHDAD 00000402  003 OF 004 
 
 
 
------------------------------------------- 
AL-JABIRI:  GOOD INSTINCTS BUT STRONG ENOUGH? 
------------------------------------------- 
 
12. (S) Fadhila Party General Secretary Nadeem al-Jabiri is 
a dark horse UIC candidate with the strongest cross- 
sectarian appeal.  He was the first UIC Prime Ministerial 
candidate to reach out to members of the Sunni Arab Tawafuq 
coalition.   Kurdish President Barzani and former PM Allawi 
both support al-Jabiri.  His candidacy would, however, 
cause great unhappiness among some elements of the Shia 
Coalition.  Fadhila's roots lie in the rivalry between the 
party's spiritual leader, Ayatollah al-Yaqubi, and Muqtada 
al-Sadr over the claim to the mantle of succession to the 
latter's esteemed father Mohammed Sadiq Sadr.   Muqtada's 
supporters would  likely oppose al-Jabiri's candidacy. 
 
13. (S) Nadeem al-Jabiri is, however, a weak man who does 
not command much support in Iraqi national politics, the 
Shia Coalition, or even his own party.  While the Fadhila 
Party backs his candidacy, we do not sense among his cadres 
any desire to break with the Shia Islamist Coalition to 
help al-Jabiri win the prize (see ref b).  Instead, al- 
Jabiri's hints appear to be, at a minimum, bargaining.  The 
Shia clerical establishment in Najaf would almost certainly 
not support Fadhila splitting from the Coalition.  He has 
kept a rather low profile and has not made himself 
accessible to the Iraqi public.  He does not score well in 
IRI opinion polls.  Within the List 555 coalition his 
Fadhila Party is small in comparison to SCIRI and Dawa, and 
does not have nearly as large a support base as Abd al- 
Mahdi or  Jafari.  Within the Fadhila party, leaders such 
as Basrah Governor Mohammed Mossibh al-Wahili have seemed 
beyond the control of al-Jabiri's dictates.  Certainly, if 
Ayatollah Yaqubi withdrew his support al-Jabiri's political 
career would end.  Given these limits to al-Jabiri's 
influence, it is hard to imagine him making tough political 
decisions, such as reforming the Ministry of Interior, 
without huge backing from the United States. 
 
14. (S) Nadeem al-Jabiri has proven willing to consult 
closely with us, however.  Jabiri has expressed unease with 
Iranian influence in Iraq, and shows no evidence of close 
ties to Iran - a reason Sunni Arabs like him.  For his 
part, Ayatollah Yaqubi is known to dislike Iranian-backed 
Ayatollahs in the Najaf Hawza.  Jabiri has often billed 
himself as an Iraqi patriot who did not move to London or 
Tehran during the Saddam regime.  (Instead, he remained in 
Iraq where he was a political science professor at Baghdad 
University.) 
 
15. (S) Jabiri's reluctance to move far ahead on federalism 
would be helpful in calming Sunni Arab concerns.  He says 
the right things about containing sectarian conflict, but 
we are not certain about his ability to deliver.  Notably, 
if al-Jabiri becomes PM, we can expect SCIRI to lay claim 
to a good share of the sovereignty ministries, including 
the Ministry of Interior.  The Sadrists may prove testy and 
demand more than their fair share of ministries in exchange 
for supporting a government led by a party they view as 
archrivals.  Fadhila's Sadrist ideological roots, which 
include a version of "Islamic economics" based on social 
justice, could make al-Jabiri a weak partner in our efforts 
to encourage Iraqi economic reform. 
 
-------------------------------------- 
SHAHRISTANI ? SCIENTIST WITH BIG AMBITIONS 
-------------------------------------- 
 
16. (C) Deputy TNA Speaker nuclear scientist Hussein Al- 
Shahristani is the weakest PM candidate, with little 
perceived support outside some of the Shia Coalition 
independents.  His very hard line on security issues would 
make it difficult for him to have a productive relationship 
with Sunni Arabs.  As part of the Shia Coalition's 
"security committee," he has criticized Coalition forces 
for hindering MOI security operations.  On the other hand, 
Shahristani has effectively and efficiently managed the TNA 
during the frequent absences of the Speaker, particularly 
during the waning days of the last session when he 
shepherded the 2006 Budget Law to passage.  He has extreme 
views on Islam as the fundamental source of law, and is 
rumored to believe in the Khomeini-inspired doctrine 
underpinning Iran?s theocratic state, vilayet al-faqih.  We 
have seen no evidence of close ties to any foreign 
countries, although he spent significant time in Iran after 
his escape from Iraq in 1991.  He is very articulate during 
meetings with U.S. officials, but he perceives the United 
States often to have interests in Iraq that do not match 
Iraq's.  As an example, he expressed reservations on the 
 
BAGHDAD 00000402  004 OF 004 
 
 
timing and necessity for a fuel import liberalization law. 
He also let wither three bilateral economic agreements in 
order to focus on other issues. 
 
------------------------------------- 
DARK HORSE CANDIDATE: JAWAD AL-MALIKI 
------------------------------------- 
 
17.  (S)  Jawad al-Maliki (AKA Nuri Kamil or Abu Isra) 
could emerge as a dark horse candidate for the prime 
minister slot if opposition hardens against Adel Abd al- 
Mahdi and Jafari rises but fails to cement his position. 
Politicians on all sides fear the rise of SCIRI, but many 
fear more a repeat of Jafari's incompetent tenure.  They 
could push for the Dawa Party to lead the government 
through Maliki instead of Jafari and attempt to convince 
Jafari to play a role similar to that of Abd al-Aziz al- 
Hakim.  Jawad al-Maliki is already the official spokesman 
of the Shia Alliance and a member of a triumvirate (with 
Ali Adeeb and Jaafari) that runs the Dawa Party.  As the 
former deputy speaker of the Iraqi Interim National Council 
and the chairman of the National Assembly's Security and 
Defense Committee,  Maliki is considered one of the leading 
statesman of the National Assembly and one of the Iraqi 
government's most tireless operators. 
 
18.  (S)  Maliki has deep concerns about expanding Iranian 
influence in Iraq learned during a career that has seen him 
often in conflict with the Iranian regime.  He is also a 
hardline De-Baathification advocate, however, and often 
clashes with Sunni Arabs on that front.  He is the deputy 
chairman of the De-Baathification Commission.  His deep 
unease about Iranian intervention is matched only by his 
unease about the possibility of another Baathist Coup.  As 
such he has worked tirelessly to double-check the work of 
the Jafari government and claims to have stopped several 
efforts to install Baathists into leading positions and 
alleged conspiracies to put unreliable Sunni Arab recruits 
into sensitive security positions in or around the Green 
Zone.  He also advocates a hard fist against the Sunni 
Arab-dominated insurgency even at the expense of human 
rights violations.  He cooperated strongly with U.S. 
diplomats to head off Sadrist efforts to create a 
Sovereignty Committee in the National Assembly that would 
have called for an immediate MNF-I withdrawal.  In part due 
to Maliki's intervention, the committee was created and 
then defanged before any public damage could be done. 
 
------- 
COMMENT 
------- 
 
19 (S)  None of the List 555 candidates for premiership 
presents an obvious quick fix to Iraq's political 
dysfunction.  The above discussion raises questions about 
which at present we can only speculate: would the benefits 
of Abd' al-Mahdi's presumed effectiveness outweigh the 
disadvantages of a PM perceived as linked to Badr Corps and 
Iran?  Could Abd al-Mahdi be prevailed upon to take a tough 
stand against his own party's militia?   Would the 
unquestionable cost of Jafari remaining in office, with his 
well known track record of ineffectiveness, be greater than 
the risks of the comparatively unknown al-Jabiri?  Would 
the right mix of competent ministers, representing all 
sectarian/ethnic groups, be able to manage around Jafari in 
his second term? 
 
20. (S)  What is clear is the importance of our continuing 
to stress principles of governance -- inclusiveness and 
qualified technocrats in key jobs such as the security, oil 
and finance ministries. Moreover, the next PM's 
relationship with his cabinet will depend on rules 
established during the negotiations to stand up the next 
government.  (They will have to decide, for example, how 
much authority to vest in deputy prime ministers.)  The 
individual who leads the government as prime minister will 
play an important role in Iraq's political transition, but 
the future government's success will depend on the 
institutions of the new government as well as the 
individual at its helm.  Septel will provide thoughts on 
the kinds of principles and procedures of governance that 
we should seek. 
 
KHALILZAD