Maliki, Nuri Kamil al- (1950–)

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Maliki, Nuri Kamil al-

Nuri Kamil Muhammad Hasan al-Muhasin al-Maliki is Iraq's prime minister. He is a longtime member of the Shi'ite Islamic Da'wa Party, which was banned in Iraq until 2003. Fearing persecution by the Ba'th regime of saddam hussein, he left Iraq in 1979 for Jordan, Syria, Iran, and again Syria, where he engaged in opposition activities against the Iraqi regime. After the fall of the regime, he returned to Iraq and became involved in politics. He has been a member of the Iraqi National Assembly since 2004. He was chosen prime minister in late April 2006 and sworn in on 20 May.


Al-Maliki was born in July 1950 in Abi Sharq near Hilla in Babil province to a well-known, middle-class family. His grandfather, Hasan Abu'l-Muhasin, was a religious cleric and a noted poet who actively participated in the 1920 anti-British revolt and later became a member of parliament and minister of education in 1926.


Name: Nuri Kamal Muhammad Hasan al-Muhasin al-Maliki

Birth: 1950, Abi Sharq, near Hilla, Babil province, Iraq

Family: Wife, Fariha Khalil; four daughters, one son.

Nationality: Iraqi

Education: B.A., College of Usul al-Din, Baghdad, 1973; M.A., Arabic literature, University of Salah al-Din, Irbil, 1992


  • 1968: Joins al-Da'wa, Shi'ite religious party
  • 1979: Leaves Iraq to live in exile
  • 1980: Condemned to death by Saddam Hussein's regime
  • 1980–1989: Lives in exile in Tehran during Iran-Iraq War
  • 1989–2003: Settles in Damascus, becomes head of Da'wa Party office for Syria and Lebanon; Publishes al-Mawqif, the party journal
  • 2003: Returns to Iraq, becomes deputy chairman of De-Ba'thification Committee
  • 2005: January, elected member, transitional National Assembly; becomes senior Shi'ite figure on National Assembly committee to draft permanent constitution; 15 December, elected member, National Assembly 2006: April, nominated as prime minister; 20 May, government sworn in

Al-Maliki finished high school in Hindiyya and then attended the College of Usul al-Din (Principles of Religion)

in Baghdad. This college was established by Ayatullah Murtada'l-Askari, one of the leaders of the Da'wa Party. Both Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, who was killed in Najaf in 2003 and Shaykh Arif al-Basri, executed by the Ba'th regime in 1974, were teachers at this college. He obtained a B.A. degree in 1973. In 1995, while in exile in Syria, al-Maliki obtained a master's degree in Arabic language and literature from the University of Salah al-Din in Irbil, then in Iraqi Kurdish territory free of Saddam's control. He wrote his dissertation on his grandfather, a study of his life and the political trends in his poetry, under the supervision of the well-known

Kurdish politician, Dr. Fu'ad Ma'sum. While in Irbil, al-Maliki established ties with members of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

After graduation from the College of Usul al-Din in 1973 al-Maliki was employed at the Department of Education in Hilla until he left Iraq in 1979. More importantly, he became involved with the Da'wa Party. Like most members of al-Da'wa, al-Maliki joined the party while he was in college, in 1968. Soon after it came to power in 1968, the Ba'th began to crack down on Shi'ite Islamist groups, chief among them the Da'wa, an underground group. During the 1970s, the Da'wa Party, a main opponent of the Ba'th regime, committed several acts of violence against the regime, such as placing bombs in public places and undertaking assassination attempts on Ba'th officials. During these years, al-Maliki remained an active member of the party. In 1979 when Hussein became president of the republic, he issued an order that membership in the Da'wa Party would be punished with execution. Faced with the threat of execution as an active Da'wa member, al-Maliki fled Iraq, first to Jordan, then to Syria and from there to southwest Iran (al-Ahwaz) before finally settling in Tehran. (In exile, al-Maliki was sentenced to death in 1980.) In Tehran, al-Maliki was joined by other Iraqi Da'wa members also fleeing Iraq, such as Ibrahim al-Ja'fari, prime minister of Iraq in 2005. In 1980, these two leaders joined forces with other Iraqi exiles and continued their anti-Hussein activities. In Iran, al-Maliki assumed the names Jawad al-Maliki and Abu Isra' al-Maliki, fearing the long arm of Hussein's police able to strike opponents anywhere. He retained these names until he became prime minister-designate in April 2006. On 26 April his office stated that he would use his original name.

Exile in Syria and Return to Iraq

Al-Maliki stayed in Iran until around 1989 when he left for Damascus. In Syria, he became very active in the Da'wa Party's anti-Hussein activities and soon became head of its office in Syria and Lebanon. Most of his work during his years in Syria was underground, dealing with Da'wa Party activities where he was responsible, among other things, for jihadist members who crossed into Iraq to accomplish "missions," some of them paramilitary operations. Al-Maliki also published and wrote for al-Mawqif (The position), the official journal of the Da'wa Party in Syria. Al-Mawqif was competing with the al-Jihad newspaper issued by the same party in Iran. Al-Mawqif had a pro-Arab orientation; therefore some considered al-Maliki the Arab face of the Da'wa Party. In Damascus, al-Maliki became the Da'wa Party representative in the Joint Action Committee, a Damascus-based opposition coalition that led to the founding of the Iraq National Congress, a U.S.-backed opposition coalition. As an exile in Syria, al-Maliki participated in several opposition conferences. He was the organizer of the important Iraqi opposition conference held in Beirut in 1991.

After the fall of Baghdad on 9 April 2003 at the hands of U.S.-led coalition forces, almost all Iraqi opposition politicians returned to Iraq, among them the leaders of the Da'wa, chief among them al-Maliki and al-Ja'fari. Among the other Shi'ite religious parties that returned was the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI; now the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council [SIIC]), with its militia, the Badr Brigade. Not long after this, Iraq saw the rise to prominence of muqtada al-sadr, son of the Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, killed by Hussein's regime in 1999, who gathered around him a large part of the Shi'ite community, particularly the poor and downtrodden. In general, the Sunni community did not welcome the U.S.-led invasion and Sunnis began to oppose the Americans. After 2004 ill feeling increased slowly between Sunnis and Shi'ites, and underground groups in each community began killing members of the other. By the end of 2006, intercommunal strife between Sunnis and Shi'ites became a fact of daily life, especially in mixed areas in and around Baghdad.

After returning to Iraq, al-Maliki was very active in Da'wa Party activities. In 2003, he assumed the post of vice president of the De-Ba'thification Committee, charged with cleaning the civil service of noted Ba'thists. On 18 August 2003, a semiappointed "parliament" of one hundred people was chosen by caucuses. Al-Maliki became a member and assumed the functions of its vice president. In January 2005, Iraq had its first general election for a new "transitional" National Assembly, elected for the purpose of drafting a new permanent constitution for Iraq. The Shi'ite bloc won a majority of seats (Sunnis generally boycotted the election), and al-Ja'fari of the Da'wa Party was chosen to be prime minister. Al-Maliki won a seat in the assembly and was appointed a member of the committee charged with drafting the new constitution. He performed this function with great zeal and interest. He was also appointed a member of the assembly's National Security Committee and Sovereignty Committee.

Elections for a Permanent Government

In the December 2005 election for a permanent government, although the Sunnis participated massively, the Shi'ite United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) won the plurality of seats. The election results closely mirrored the ethnic and sectarian distribution of the population. Shi'ites make up between 55 and 60 percent of the population; Sunnis about 20 percent; Kurds 20 percent, and others (Christians, Turkmen, etc.) about 3-5 percent. The winning bloc nominated al-Ja'fari to be Iraq's first full-term prime minister of the post-Hussein era. However, al-Ja'fari faced opposition from Kurds and Arab Sunnis in the parliament. Because there was a need to find a person who could pass a vote of confidence in the assembly, al-Maliki was presented as an alternative candidate acceptable to all parties. Finally, after a contentious behind-the-scenes struggle, al-Ja'fari's name was removed and in late April 2006, al-Maliki was nominated as prime minister by Iraq's president, jalal talabani.

As a veteran of the Da'wa Party who had fought the Ba'th regime for more than thirty years and was sentenced to death by it, al-Maliki was a promising candidate to the country's Shi'ite majority. His nomination brought relief to many Iraqis who had waited for more than four months to get an acceptable prime minister.

Al-Maliki began his new functions by demonstrating that he is both tough and at the same time flexible enough to reach the compromises needed under the circumstances. He stressed that he wanted to build bridges to the Sunnis and to rebuild the country. The twenty-four-point plan of national reconciliation he presented to parliament and the nation at the end of June 2006 followed these lines. In April 2006, even before he was sworn in as prime minister, al-Maliki traveled to Najaf to meet with Ayatollah ali husayni al-sistani, the chief religious authority for the Shi'ites. Sistani reportedly told al-Maliki that he had to put an end to bombings, drive-by shootings, and other killing; to fight corruption and to restore services. Sistani also urged al-Maliki to form a government of leaders who would put national interest above their personal interests or those of their party or sect. It took al-Maliki more than three weeks to negotiate the formation of a cabinet with all of the parties and factions in the assembly; it was finally sworn in on 20 May 2006. The cabinet obtained parliamentary approval despite the reservations of deputies of the Sunni National Dialogue Party, who complained about the manner in which cabinet appointments had been made. The cabinet took office despite the failure to fill three seats—the critical sovereignty ministries of defense, interior, and national security. These were later filled by individuals officially not affiliated with parties, a move aimed at calming the Sunnis, who had accused the former minister of interior, a Shi'ite, of sectarianism and allowing "death squads" to operate freely against Sunnis in his ministry.

According to al-Maliki's statements to the press and visiting scholars, he advocates a dialogue among those with different ideas, including minorities. He believes that people should be free to hold various views, and that people should have the right to work and to succeed in their endeavors, but that some limits should be put on freedoms; freedom in Iraq cannot be practiced exactly as it is in the United States, because Iraq is different. Al-Maliki says he believes in some form of federalism, but does not want to see Iraq divided or split up. To prevent the return of authoritarianism, he believes in a high degree of decentralization in Iraq. His aspiration is that Iraq should be free, live in peace, and have positive relations with the Arab world, the United States, and others. Al-Maliki has some understanding of the United States since he has visited his married daughter who lives there. Politically, he is not considered to be tied to Iran, although he lived in that country during most of the 1980s. Several sources have reported that one reason for his state visit to Iran in the summer of 2006 was to tell the Iranians to stop interfering in Iraq's internal affairs. Although al-Maliki speaks only Arabic, his Arabic is excellent and he is an articulate speaker.


Three influences have been paramount in al-Maliki's life: his involvement with the Da'wa Party; his opposition to the Ba'th regime; and his exile in Iran and Syria. The three are intertwined.

Al-Maliki was in his teens when he joined the Da'wa Party in 1968 as a college student. Iraqi universities and schools were the hub of the Iraqi Islamic movement during the 1960s and 1970s. At that time, the Da'wa Party was the most important Shi'ite political organization in opposition to the Ba'th. The origins of the Da'wa Party go back to the late 1950s. The real founder of the party was a young cleric, Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, who advocated the renewal of Shi'ite theology and its teaching in Shi'ite establishments. He also advocated the establishment of an Islamic government in Iraq. Al-Sadr was arrested by Hussein and executed in 1980.

Throughout its history, the Da'wa Party has suffered from division. One division occurred around 1972, when one of its leaders in Baghdad, Sayyid Sami al-Badri, left the party to establish what he called the Islamic Movement, which later became the Jund al-Imam (Army of the Imam) movement. In 1979, some other Da'wa leaders, headed by Abd al-Zahra Uthman, also known as Izz al-Din Salim, left the party to set up the Da'wa Islamic Movement. In 2003, Salim was selected as a member of the Iraq Governing Council, which ruled Iraq after the fall of Hussein. He was the temporary president of the council in June 2004 when he was killed by a suicide car bomb. Another division of the party came at the end of the 1990s or early in the 2000s when leaders such as Sayyid Hashim al-Musawi (also known as Abu Aqil), Dr. Falah al-Sudani, and Abd al-Karim al-'Anazi left the party to establish Da'wa Tanzim (the Da'wa Organization).

During all of these divisions, al-Maliki remained loyal to the original branch of the party, whose spokesman was Shaykh Muhammad Mahdi al-Asifi. Al-Asifi left the party in the 1990s, to be replaced by al-Ja'fari. Da'wa leaders, such as al-Maliki, assert that the party had collective leadership and that there was no single leader at any time. During all of these divisions, especially that between the Da'wa and the Da'wa Tanzim, al-Maliki chose the middle ground, attempting to be a connecting link between competing elements.

Most of al-Maliki's adult life has been directed toward opposition to the Ba'th regime. He was involved with the Da'wa Party during a period in which it engaged in violent opposition to the regime. Islamic underground groups, for example, were responsible for an attack on Tariq Aziz, then deputy prime minister, in April 1980, while he was visiting al-Mustansiriyya University in Baghdad. Da'wa members participated in a major Shi'ite demonstration and other acts of resistance to the Ba'th regime. As a result of the crackdown by the regime on Da'wa members, many fled to neighboring Iran, which had undergone a Shi'ite Islamic revolution in 1979. Iran gave refuge to the fleeing Iraqi Arab Shi'ites. Faced with increasing Shi'ite opposition in Iraq and what he considered a threat from the revolutionary regime in Iran to spread its Islamic revolution to Iraq, Hussein ordered the expulsion of several hundred thousand Iraqis of Persian origin from Iraq. Finally, Hussein staged a surprising military attack against Iran on 23 September 1980 that resulted in Iranian retaliation, beginning a bloody war that lasted eight years, from 1980 to 1988. With so many Iraqi Shi'ites in exile in Iran, Iraqi Shi'ite parties there gained strength and increased their activities during the war. Al-Maliki was involved in these activities.

Divisions among Shi'ite Political Groups

Although he spent some time in Iran, al-Maliki never lost his sense of Arab and Iraqi identity. The main Shi'ite groups at that time were the Da'wa Party and the SCIRI, headed by Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim and sponsored by Iran. While the two parties worked against Hussein's regime, their positions toward the ongoing war deviated. On the one hand, SCIRI declared total support for Iran in the war and formed a special brigade, the Badr Brigade, composed of Iraqi Shi'ite refugees, to fight alongside the Iranian army. The Da'wa Party, on the other hand, saw a split in its ranks over the war and the Iranian Islamic regime. While one group in the Da'wa gave its total support to Iran, al-Maliki and al-Ja'fari, with their followers, took a more nuanced position. They advocated keeping their distance from Iran in the war against Iraq, as well as from the ruling principles of the Iranian regime, based on the concept of wilayat al-faqih (rule of the Islamic jurist), which gives the rule of the state to clerics, not laypeople. Al-Ja'fari left Iran for Britain in the mid-1980s; al-Maliki, however, stayed in Iran until around 1989 when he went to Syria.

Syria at that time was under the firm control of President hafiz al-asad, leader of the Syrian Ba'th Party, which was a rival to the Iraqi Ba'th of Hussein. Asad thus gave refuge and support to Iraqi Shi'ite Islamists who opposed Hussein, among them the Da'wa and pro-Syrian Iraqi Ba'thists. In Syria, al-Maliki became the "Arab face" of the Da'wa, while continuing to oppose the Hussein regime. He played a major role after the 1991 rebellion in Iraq in organizing an Arab opposition coalition against the Ba'th regime, which eventually led to the founding of the Iraq National Congress, backed by the United States. The Da'wa participated in that coalition between 1992 and 1995. On at least one occasion, al-Maliki disagreed with the party leadership. He supported the idea of participating in the London opposition conference with other anti-Ba'th groups in December 2002; he and his supporters were opposed by the faction headed by al-Ja'fari, who refused to attend. This indicates a pragmatic willingness in al-Maliki to search for middle ground.

This search for middle ground may be al-Maliki's most important contribution to post-Hussein Iraq, although it is too soon to evaluate its effectiveness. While the Kurds welcomed his twenty-four-point plan, the Arab Sunnis were divided among themselves. Some gave measured approval, but Sunni insurgents, fighting the Iraqi government and U.S. forces, rejected it, demanding a scheduled withdrawal of American and other troops from Iraq before negotiating any reconciliation. They insisted, at the same time, that there should also be a general amnesty for everyone, including those who have killed American and Iraqi government forces. By summer 2007, reconciliation efforts were still ongoing with no noticeable results. Al-Maliki's contributions will be evaluated on the basis of how well this succeeds.


Al-Maliki has been prime minister for too short a time for there to have developed a foreign consensus on his leadership. In the West, especially the United States, he is regarded as well-meaning but weak. The nomination of al-Maliki was welcomed by the United States. The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, stated that al-Maliki has a "reputation as someone who is independent of Iran and that he sees himself as an Arab and an Iraqi nationalist" (Washington Post, 26 April 2006). For the rest of the world, al-Maliki is a new figure on the Iraqi scene. He has yet to produce real positive changes and is being watched to see how effective he will be in solving the major problems Iraq faces.


Al-Maliki will be remembered as Iraq's first permanent prime minister in the post-Hussein era. His legacy is uncertain since his time in office has been short. He assumed his post in a difficult time, with the country facing a civil war between Shi'ites and Sunnis. Moreover, he has had to accommodate two different forces, the Americans who want to shape Iraq in a direction that satisfies their interests and a Shi'ite base that includes, among others, the anti-American movement of muqtada al-sadr. Without much party organization or his own militia, al-Maliki has to balance these forces. He put together a plan of reconciliation, but faced with opposition from Sunnis and even some Shi'ites, has been unable to achieve much. Al-Maliki also faces the dilemma of reconciling his desire to put an end to the U.S.-led occupation and the need for foreign troops to maintain his government in existence.


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                                              Louay Bahry