Iraqi Interior Minister Bolani: Chalabi Redux?

Posted by Cutler on June 08, 2006

Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki has named–and the Iraqi parliament has already approved–a new Interior minister, Jawad al-Bolani. This was one of the key appointments that has held up the full formation of a new, “permanent” government. Lots at stake here.

So far this morning, most media outlets are reporting his name with little or no additional information. The Washington Post article–“Iraqi Parliament Selects Top Security Ministers“–simply notes,

The new interior minister, Jawad al-Bolani, was nominated by the Iraqi United Alliance, the largest Shiite bloc in the parliament. But unlike his predecessor, Bayan Jabr, he is not connected to Shiite militias. He had been an engineer in the Iraqi air force until 1999. He became involved in politics after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s government and eventually joined Iraq’s interim parliament.

There is a bit more to say than that. Here is some background on Bolani:

On the occasion of Paul Bremer’s extraordinary “re-Baathification” order, The Times of London ran an April 24, 2004 article (i couldn’t find it on-line; link anyone?) by Stephen Farrell under the headline “Baathist officials in from cold as US does U-turn.” The report quotes Jawad al-Bolani, referring to him as a “spokesman for Abdel-Karim al-Mohammedawi, widely known as the ‘Prince of the Marshes'”:

The Americans could face an uprising because all people will reject this. I want to tell the Americans they must remember that who kills the American soldiers now are the Baathists in Fallujah.

So, at least back in April 2004, Bolani was intensely committed to de-Baathification and saw Bremer’s U-turn as a betrayal.

In December 2004, the New York Times ran an article by Robert Worth under the headline “Rift Among Shiite Factions May Hurt Them in Election” (couldn’t find it on-line; link anyone?) about the formation of a new “Shiite Council.” Bolani is named as the chairman of the Shiite Council.

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Dec. 6 — A rift has developed among the major Shiite political groups here, raising the prospect of fierce competition for votes among rival Shiite factions in the coming elections and possibly altering the religious and political alignment of the country’s new national assembly.

The development is a major setback for Iraq’s most powerful religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali alSistani, who appointed a committee in October to create a single coalition dominated by Shiite religious parties…
On Monday a coalition of several dozen groups and individuals calling itself the Shiite Council announced plans to break away from the United Iraqi Alliance, the new umbrella group formed under Ayatollah Sistani’s auspices…

Officials with the Shiite Council have questioned the loyalty of some of their rivals, saying the Alliance has favored parties and individuals with foreign connections, including many who lived in Iran and the West until Mr. Hussein was ousted. That accusation is a potent one here and could color the political debate as campaigning begins in the coming weeks.”How can you run with a man who tries to get foreigners to intervene in an Iraqi election?” said Ali Faisal, a spokesman for the Shiite Council, referring to Ibrahim Jafari, a member of the Alliance who has lived in Britain and spent time in Iran more recently…

The United Iraqi Alliance had hoped to unite all the Shiite religious parties under a single banner, with a date palm as its logo. It also drew in Sunni and Kurdish parties and tribal leaders from throughout the country in an effort to create a truly national coalition under Shiite leadership.”These are the major players in Iraq,” said Hussein al-Shahristani, a former nuclear scientist imprisoned by Mr. Hussein and a member of the Alliance’s six-man coordinating committee.

But the committee allocated dominant positions to the Dawa Islamic Party and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, whose candidates will receive preferred positions in the Alliance’s allocation of assembly seats. That infuriated members of the Shiite Council, who were considering joining the Alliance but felt they were not getting their fair share and rankled at the party’s favoring of candidates with foreign ties…


Shiite CouncilMade of about 40 smaller political groups. They have criticized the Alliance for its foreign ties and its favoring of expatriate leaders.

Jawad al-Bolani, the chairman of the Shiite Council, is not pictured.

On March 5, 2005, the New York Times ran an article by Edward Wong under the headline, “Two Legislators Withdraw in Impatience From Fragile Shiite Coalition” that shed further light on the relationship between Bolani’s patron–Muhammadawi, Prince of the Marsh Arabs–and Ahmad Chalabi:

Two newly elected politicians announced Friday that they were withdrawing from the fragile political alliance cobbled together by the country’s most powerful Shiite cleric, marking the first notable fracture within the alliance.

One of the departing politicians, Sheik Abdul Karim al-Muhammadawi, said as many as eight others on the Shiite list might withdraw. Mr. Muhammadawi is a close ally of Ahmad Chalabi

Mr. Muhammadawi, an influential politician from Amara, a southern city near the Shiite marshlands, heads the Hezbollah Party (which has no ties to the party of the same name in Lebanon, listed by the United States as a terrorist organization). The other politician is Ali Hashem Yousha, the head of a little-known party called the National Coalition.

Mr. Muhammadawi said in a telephone interview that the main reason he had lost confidence in the Shiite alliance was that the alliance had failed so far to install a government. ”There hasn’t even been a meeting yet to choose a new president,” he said.

Mr. Muhammadawi’s withdrawal could have a significant ripple effect. Before the elections, he agreed to ally the Hezbollah Party with the Shiite Council, an umbrella political group assembled by Mr. Chalabi that later joined forces with the Sistani group, the United Iraqi Alliance. The Shiite Council has at least a dozen members in the Shiite alliance, and Mr. Muhammadawi could take some of them with him.

Regarding Muhammadawi, his Hezbollah Party, and the politics of Basra (see HERE, HERE, and HERE for background). On August 7, 2005, the Associated Press ran the following report:

Dozens of armed men belonging to two rival Shiite Muslim groups went into the streets late Sunday as tension rose between them following a raid by gunmen on a police station that police said freed four prisoners.The raid on the Saudia police station in central Basra was carried out by members of the Hezbollah group, said police Capt. Mushtaq Kadhim. Hezbollah members fired several shots in the air before fleeing with the four, Kadhim said…

Right after the raid, more than 200 armed members of the Fadhila group as well as police took positions in the streets around some police stations and the governor’s office of the Basra province.

Basra’s provincial governor, Mohammed al-Waili, is a member of Fadhila, a breakaway group of the movement led by radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. About 20 other Fadhila members are on the provincial council.

The two groups had close relations until after the provincial elections in January, when Fadhila defeated Hezbollah, headed by legislator Karim Mahoud al-Mohammedawi.

So, in terms of Basra politics, it looks like Bolani/Mohammedawi were the folks that Waeli’s Fadhila party defeated back in the January 2005 elections. What does the appointment of Bolani as Interior Minister say about the political significance of Maliki’s “state of emergency”?

If the tensions between Mohammedawi’s Hezbollah party and Waeli’s Fadhila party have continued unabated, then it certainly looks like the inclusion of Bolani in the Maliki government implies that Waeli and Fadhila’s political control of Basra are the likely targets of the Basra crackdown.

According to a June 30, 2005 New York Times report by Edward Wong under the headline “Secular Shiites in Iraq Seek Autonomy in Oil-Rich South,” Mohammedawi is also a champion of regional autonomy for Basra.

With the Aug. 15 deadline for writing a new constitution bearing down, a cadre of powerful, mostly secular Shiite politicians is pushing for the creation of an autonomous region in the oil-rich south of Iraq, posing a direct challenge to the nation’s central authority…

Here in Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city, banners have appeared on the streets in recent weeks calling for an autonomous region similar to Iraqi Kurdistan…

Mr. Chalabi and Sheik Abdul Kareem al-Muhammadawi, a prominent member of the National Assembly, are planning to propose a regional vote on the question of southern autonomy in October, at the same time as a national referendum on the constitution, said Ali Faisal al-Lami, an aide to both politicians…

The staunchest Shiite opponents of autonomy are Moktada al-Sadr, the young firebrand cleric who led two uprisings against the Americans, and Ayatollah Muhammad Yacoubi, another activist cleric who was close to Mr. Sadr’s martyred father.

Yacoubi is the leader of the Fadhila party that beat out Muhammadawi’s Hezbollah party in the January 2005 electiosn for control of the Basra Provincial Council.

Reuters says,

Out of 198 deputies present in the 275-seat legislature, 182 voted for Bolani and 142 backed Jassim.

As I’ve suggested in the past, the best way to get a handle on the political identity of various players is to listen to the accusations of their enemies. The 182 out of 198 vote tally for Bolani looks impressive at first glance, but it will be important to hear what key Sunni-aligned politicians (Dulaimi, Mutlak, Allawi, Pachachi, etc.) have to say about the appointment, especially given the Bolani/Mohammedawi link to Chalabi and de-Baathification.

3 Comments to Iraqi Interior Minister Bolani: Chalabi Redux?

  • I had to listen to a man from VOA’s Persian Service ranting about poor ‘Nejad yesterday – he claimed that there was evidence of ‘Nejad’s atom-bomb plans, that was known but suppressed by el Baradei and the IAEA – that there was evidence of tens of thousands of Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the Basra area, and of Iranian-manufactured shaped-charge bombs, that was being suppressed by the British – he got really upset when I accused him of relying on disinfo from the MEK, though…

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