Iyad Allawi Biography

 Faleh Kheiber/Reuters/Corbis.
Iyad Allawi
© Faleh Kheiber/Reuters/Corbis.

1945 • Adhamiyah, Iraq

Former prime minister of Iraq

For nearly thirty years Iraq-born Iyad Allawi lived in Great Britain, where he was known for his skills as a neurologist (brain doctor). At the same time, he was an important player in Iraqi underground (secret) politics. In the 1960s Allawi was a leader in the Ba'ath Party, a coalition of Arabic groups that worked to establish unity among Arab nations. Disillusioned by the direction the Ba'ath Party began to take, and especially distrustful of Ba'athist Saddam Hussein (1937–), who rose to power in 1979, Allawi defected and formed his own group, the Iraqi National Accord (INA), in 1990. In 2003, when the Hussein government was toppled, Allawi returned to Iraq to help rebuild his country. He served as part of the Iraqi Governing Council, which was established to temporarily run the war-torn nation. In June 2004, Allawi was appointed prime minister, a temporary position until the first post-Hussein free elections were held in January 2005. Allawi's ten-month tenure was controversial, with many believing the strong-willed former exile was simply a substitute for the dominating Hussein. On April 7, 2005, Allawi's rocky term ended after members of the newly elected National Assembly chose Ibrahim al-Jaafari (1947–) to be the next prime minister of Iraq.

Young revolutionary

Iyad Allawi was born in 1945 in Adhamiyah, a wealthy district of northwestern Baghdad, the capital city of Iraq. Both of his parents were well educated and came from very powerful families. For example, Allawi's grandfather helped negotiate Iraq's independence from Great Britain when it became an independent state in 1932. Allawi's father, who was a doctor, served as a member of the Iraqi parliament. Both of Allawi's parents were Shia Muslims, members of a branch of Islam that believes that the caliph, or leader of Islam, has to be a direct descendent of Muhammad. Islam is the national religion of Iraq, with 60 percent of the Muslim population following the Shiite tradition; the remaining 40 percent of Muslims belong to the Sunni sect, which believes that the caliph should be elected from among members of Muhammad's tribe.

Allawi led a sheltered life among the elite of Baghdad, attending the best schools in the country and spending his summer holidays in Europe. His world, however, was upset in 1958 when Abdul Karim Kassem (1914–1963) led a bloody revolution that overthrew the monarchy, or rule, of King Faisal II (1935–1958) of Iraq. Members of the privileged class who had been favored by the monarchy were frequent targets of persecution, and as a result many of Allawi's cousins left the country. Allawi's family, however, remained in Iraq where the young man became active in the Ba'ath Party, which openly opposed the

"I want to see Iraq unified and strong."

Kassem government. As one of Allawi's relatives told Jon Lee Anderson of the New Yorker, "The fact that Iyad became a Ba'athist when he did was not all that unusual for an Iraqi boy of his age and class. He became a street fighter, an organizer."

In the mid- to late-1960s Allawi remained active in the Ba'ath Party while he studied medicine at Baghdad University. At the same time he met a young man named Saddam Hussein, a rising leader in the Ba'ath Party. In 1968, when the Ba'aths forcibly took control of the Iraqi government, Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr (1914–1982), a distant relative of Hussein, assumed the role of president. Saddam Hussein was named vice president, but over the next decade it became apparent that he was the true leader of the country.

Controversial split

In 1971 Allawi took up residence in London, England, although the reason for his move remains a controversy. In interviews Allawi admits that he was integral in facilitating Hussein's brutal rise to power, but he also claims that he quickly distanced himself from the Ba'ath Party once he realized that Hussein was creating a dangerous and dictatorial political climate. Allawi claims to have moved in order to physically separate himself from the party and continue his medical studies. He obtained his master's degree at University College in London and completed his residency (advanced training in a medical specialty) at Guy's Hospital.

Former colleagues of Allawi, however, claim that he moved to London for another reason—to continue to serve the Ba'ath Party in Europe as president of the Iraqi Student Union. On the surface, Allawi's job was to promote the party and to organize Arab students who were attending elite London universities. In addition, he was supposedly tasked with keeping tabs on Arab students, weeding out any enemies of the Hussein regime, and acting as an informant for the Mukhabarat, the Iraqi secret police. Some intelligence officers even claim that Allawi was involved with the assassination of Arab students who openly opposed Iraq's vice president.

Allawi did eventually break ties with the Ba'ath Party in the mid-1970s while in London. At first Hussein attempted to persuade Allawi to rejoin the party. Upon his refusal to rejoin, Allawi became a targeted enemy, and in 1978 Hussein sent an axe-wielding assassin to Allawi's suburban London home. Allawi and his wife barely escaped with their lives, and Allawi spent a better part of the next year recuperating in the hospital.

The Iraq National Accord

While he was recovering, Allawi began to rethink his involvement in politics. As he explained to Jon Lee Anderson, "When I was lying in the hospital, I thought to myself, is it worth it, to continue and to fight Saddam, or is it not? And I decided ultimately my destiny and my country and whatever I stand for required me to fight. On the day I left the hospital, a Thursday, I went to see some of my friends, and I told them, 'We have to consolidate now and we have to work actively to overthrow the regime.'"

Throughout the 1980s Allawi worked hard to organize such a network, making connections with other Arabs in exile as he traveled on business for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Because he was a successful physician, Allawi was employed as a part-time consultant by the UNDP to establish medical training programs in developing countries.

By the end of the decade, Allawi's network extended around the globe and was composed of former military and political leaders who had defected from Iraq. In 1990, boosted by the strength of his numbers, the physician-in-exile formally announced the formation of the Iraq National Accord (INA), an organization that had the sole purpose of toppling the Hussein regime. The INA was further strengthened by the support of several international bodies, including the British intelligence agency, M.I.6, and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Both organizations shared the same goal as Allawi: to remove Saddam Hussein from power.

According to Anderson, the relationship between M.I.6 and the INA was particularly profitable for both parties: "For the British, Allawi was a powerful Iraqi whose knowledge and contacts offered a potential means of future influence there. For Allawi, the relationship with M.I.6 assured him of continued sanctuary in Britain and provided funds for him to build his own political operation while living in exile." As a result, throughout the 1990s Allawi's intelligence agents stationed in Iraq supplied top-secret information to Great Britain and the United States; in return both countries funneled millions of dollars of aid to the INA.

End of Hussein era

INA intelligence was particularly sought after following the attacks of September 11, 2001, when terrorist hijackers crashed planes into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Although the attacks were never directly linked to Saddam Hussein, President George W. Bush (1946–) insisted that Hussein was a threat to the United States. In particular he accused Hussein time and again of concealing weapons of mass destruction. (Weapons of mass destruction are high-powered weapons, including nuclear, biological, and chemical, that can cause enormous amounts of damage.) Although Hussein denied having a weapons' stockpile, President Bush demanded that UN inspectors be allowed in Iraq to look into the situation. In 2002 inspectors visited Iraq and found nothing; however, President Bush was not satisfied. In January 2003, he sent an ultimatum to Hussein: Totally disarm the country or voluntarily leave Iraq. If the demands were not met, the United States would invade.

Even though there was no proof that Hussein was concealing weapons, Great Britain and the United States did have intelligence reports from the INA. An INA insider, who was also an officer in the Iraq army, claimed to have seen boxes of weapons that could be launched by Hussein within forty-five minutes. Although the claim was later found to be false, at the time it fueled enough support for the United States to invade Iraq on March 20, 2003. Three weeks later, Baghdad was captured and the Hussein regime was toppled. On December 13, 2003 Saddam Hussein was captured by U.S. soldiers.

The INA had finally gotten its wish, but rebuilding Iraq in the aftermath of war was not an easy task. As a temporary measure, the United States established the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to serve as an administrative body until June 2004 when power would be transferred to the Iraq government. The first task of the CPA was to identify top Iraqis willing to step into future leadership roles once the transfer took place. In July 2003 the CPA created the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC), which was populated by prominent Iraqis, many of whom had been in exile for years. Since Iyad Allawi was a longtime ally, he was one of the first to be appointed to the council. After a nearly thirty-year absence, Allawi returned to Baghdad to serve as the chairman of the IGC's security committee, which was responsible for resurrecting Iraq's army, intelligence services, and police force.

Allawi helps with rocky rebuild

Allawi served as chairman of the IGC until May 2004, when the council unanimously voted him to be Iraq's interim (temporary) prime minister. On June 28, 2004, the CPA officially recognized the government of Iraq. Allawi and thirty-one members of the new governing council were sworn in by Iraqi judges. Some Iraqis were surprised by Allawi's appointment, given his long absence from the country. But the majority saw him as a man whose experience in intelligence and security would be beneficial in the crucial months ahead. And, as one women's rights activist told Luke Harding of the Guardian Unlimited, "[Allawi's] past as a Ba'athist and nationalist gives him credibility with the Arab people."

In his first official speech as prime minister, Allawi promised to bring unity to the country, specifically to negotiate peace among the three major ethnic groups: the Shiites, the Sunnis, and the Kurds (a nomadic people who are Muslim, but not Arabic, and who occupy the northern region of Iraq). After decades of political unrest, however, peace was not forthcoming. Internal tensions increased throughout 2004, and terrorist acts, such as car bombings, became daily occurrences. Allawi was forced to focus attention on forming a well-trained army and strengthening Iraq's security.

In the summer of 2004 Allawi created the General Security Directorate, an agency that was charged with counteracting local terrorist groups. Many members were former agents of Saddam Hussein's secret police. Allawi also reinstated the death penalty for terrorists. There were rumors that Allawi himself had participated in executing seven suspects. In interviews Allawi denied involvement, although he did gain a reputation for being a strict ruler. Members of the press speculated that by perpetuating such rumors Allawi felt he would gain the confidence of his people. One of Allawi's close friends reinforced this belief when he described a conversation he had with the prime minister to Jon Lee Anderson, "[Allawi] said Iraqis only respected brute force, and that was how he had to deal with them."

In November 2004 brute force reached a peak level when Allawi ordered a military strike of Fallujah, a city just west of Baghdad that was supposedly a terrorist center of operations. On November 7, 2004, thousands of U.S. Marines and Iraqi soldiers stormed the town, and over the next several days house-to-house searches were made to uncover terrorist activity. When the city was finally subdued, over a thousand people had been killed, including many civilians, and nearly ten thousand buildings were destroyed. Terrorist operations, however, continued to spring up in and around Baghdad. In response, Allawi closed down television and radio stations, declared martial (or military) law, and furthered his stronghold on Iraq.

Loses bid for prime minister

Many people wondered if Allawi was just a Saddam Hussein substitute. Andrew Gilligan of The Spectator commented, "There are few signs that Iyad Allawi has been able to break free from the authoritarian habits of the past." However, Allawi also had his defenders, especially in the United States and Great Britain. As Toby Dodge, a British expert on Iraq, explained to Johanna McGeary of Time, "Allawi was dealt a very bad hand: a collapsed state, a nonexistent army, a police force that kept

Iyad Allawi and U.S. president George W. Bush shake hands after delivering a press conference at the White House in September 2004. AP/Wide World Photos.
Iyad Allawi and U.S. president George W. Bush shake hands after delivering a press conference at the White House in September 2004.
AP/Wide World Photos.
getting shot at and an insurgency that kept getting better. He had no choice but to focus all his energy on subduing the insurgency."

Despite such mixed opinions and the fact that his time as the temporary leader of Iraq was turbulent, Allawi agreed to run for a seat on the Iraq National Assembly during the January 30, 2005, election. The focus of the election was to choose representatives for the 275-member Iraq National Assembly. Members of the assembly would draft Iraq's new constitution to be voted on by Iraqis in October of 2005, and select a president and two vice presidents who would then appoint a prime minister and a cabinet. "Of course I want to be part of the process," he told Jon Anderson. "I'll press on with whatever I believe is right for the country." Allawi waged an all-out campaign blitz, spending millions of dollars to spread his slogan, "A powerful government leads to a safe state."

Eight million citizens cast their votes, which represented a 59 percent turnout. A coalition of Shiite parties called the United Iraqi Alliance won the majority of seats in the assembly, taking 48 percent of the vote and filling 140 of the 275 national assembly seats. Allawi's party, the Iraqi List, came in third, with 14 percent.

Iraq's Revolutionary New Prime Minister: Ibrahim al-Jaafari

When Ibrahim al-Jaafari was named prime minister of Iraq in April 2005, it was a revolutionary moment for many reasons. For the first time in history an Arab country would be ruled by a Shiite Muslim. Although the Shiite sect is prominent in Iraq, Shiites are a minority in the rest of the Islamic world. According to Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek, al-Jaafari will be watched carefully and how he performs could have a major effect on every Arab nation.

Ibrahim al-Jaafari was born in 1947 in Karbala, a holy Shia city located southwest of the Iraq capital of Baghdad. He came from a very conservative and religious family, and to this day al-Jaafari is a strict follower of Islam. For example, he does not drink, smoke, play cards, or go to the movies. In 1974, al-Jaafari graduated with a medical degree from Mosul University in Baghdad, and although he practiced family medicine he was also active in the Dawa Party, a Shiite political party formed in Iraq in the late 1950s to counter the rising Ba'athist and Communist movements. During the 1970s, when Saddam Hussein and his secular (nonreligious) Sunni regime took power, Hussein ordered a crackdown on Dawaists. Thousands were killed and al-Jaafari, who barely escaped assassination, fled to Iran in 1980. He remained in Iran for nine years, then moved to Great Britain, where he continued to practice medicine and work as a spokesman for the Dawa Party.

In 2003 when the Hussein regime was toppled, al-Jaafari returned to Iraq to join the newly formed Iraqi Governing Council (IGC). He served as the council's first chairman and in 2004 became one of the IGC's two vice presidents. According to a 2004 opinion poll reported by Martin Asser of the BBC al-Jaafari was rated Iraq's most popular politician. The fifty-eight-year-old doctor was responsible for bringing the Dawa Party into the coalition of Shiite parties called the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) and when the UIA took the majority of votes in the January 30, 2005, election he became a front-runner for the post of prime minister. In February 2005, before his nomination was confirmed, al-Jaafari, who is unusually shy and modest, spoke with Rory Carroll of the Guardian Unlimited. "I did not expect to be in this position," he commented to Carroll, "but I will respond if I am called to serve my country."

Since formally taking office in April 2005, many have wondered if al-Jaafari is perhaps too mild-mannered to tackle such a hazardous and high-profile job. He does not have the boisterous and harsh personality of Saddam Hussein or the hard-edged demeanor of former prime minister Iyad Allawi; instead he is soft-spoken and moderate in interviews. Such a switch may prove that Iraq is ready for a change, especially since al-Jaafari's early message was one of inclusion, not of retaliation or revenge. As he told Fareed Zakaria, "Ours will be a civilized and modern agenda that accommodates all Iraqis. We suffered from factional aggression and do not wish to replace it with a new one."

In February 2005 the United Iraqi Alliance nominated Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a longtime politician and medical doctor like Allawi, to be Iraq's next prime minister. Following the election of the Presidency Council on April 6, 2005, al-Jaafari was named prime minister of Iraq on April 7; he was officially approved by the assembly on April 28. Allawi retained his seat in the national assembly, but it was doubtful that he or his Iraqi National Accord would wield much influence in the future. As Abdul Mahdi, another contender for the post of prime minister, commented to Johanna McGeary, "Allawi faced a terrible mess, and he used his power to give what momentum he could. But he was just a caretaker."

For More Information


Allbritton, Christopher. "A Talk with Iraq's Prime Minister: Iyad Allawi." Time (August 23, 2004): p. 32.

McGeary, Johanna. "The Candidate: Iyad Allawi Says He's the Tough Leader Iraq Needs. Do Voters Believe Him?" Time (January 31, 2005): p. 30.

Zakaria, Fareed. "In Search of the Real New Iraq." Newsweek (May 2, 2005): p. 35.

Web Sites

Anderson, John Lee. "A Man of the Shadows." New Yorker (January 17, 2005). http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/?050124fa_fact1 (accessed on August 10, 2005).

Asser, Martin. "Profile: Ibrahim Jaafari." BBC News: World Edition (April 7, 2005). http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/world/middle_east/ 4268143.stm (accessed on August 10, 2005).

Carroll, Rory. "The Man To Heal Iraq." Guardian Unlimited (UK) (February 24, 2005). http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/ 0,,1423829,00.html (accessed on August 10, 2005).

Colwill, Richard. "Profile: Iyad Allawi." Times Online (UK) (May 28, 2004). http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,1-1126480,00.html" (accessed on August 10, 2005).

Gilligan, Andrew. "The Strongman of Baghdad." The Spectator (UK) (November 13, 2004). http://www.antiwar.com/spectator2/spec509b.html (accessed on August 10, 2005).

Harding, Luke. "Liberal Iraqis Welcome 'Compromise' Appointment of Temporary Prime Minister." Guardian Unlimited (UK) (May 29, 2004). http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/ 0,3604,1227176,00.html (accessed on August 10, 2005).

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