Iraq's Reluctant President

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Ghazi Ajil al-Yawar hesitated, at first, when he was asked to serve on the Iraqi Governing Council. He'd been approached in Saudi Arabia, where he was living in exile, by officials from the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad. The challenges of taking a position linked to an occupation authority would be daunting, he realized, and could take a heavy toll. As a businessman who had spent his formative years in Saudi Arabia, life was quite good, and though he had relations with people in opposition circles, he was a relative outsider to core group of eight organizations that made up the exiled opposition to Saddam Hussein during the 1990s. It finally took his uncles, Humaidi and Muhsin, both high level sheikhs in the Shumar tribe, to convince Yawar to take on the job as part of his responsibility as a tribal leader.

On Tuesday, Yawar's selection as interim president of Iraq broke a week-long deadlock between his backers on the Iraqi Governing Council, and U.S. administrator J. Paul Bremer, who reportedly favored former foreign minister Adnan Pachachi as his first choice for the presidency.

Yawar's ascendance underscores the importance of tribal structures in the daily life of the occupied nation. But he is widely seen as a unifying figure, whose support crosses tribal, ethnic and sectarian lines. As a Sheikh of the Shumar tribe, he presides over Sunnis in the north and Shia in the south of the country. His tribal seat in Mosul, Iraq's third largest town, on the border of Iraq's Kurdish region, and that has helped foster his close ties to Iraq's Kurdish minority. At the same time, his general comfort with the West has helped build a firm understanding with Iraq's occupiers.

Ghazi al-Yawar has worked to be the modern face of Iraq's tribal legacies. A graduate of George Washington University who is fluent in English, generally well-read with a knack for technology, he also carries a massive constituency rooted in his Shumar tribe, whose members stretch from Iraq to Saudi Arabia, making it one of the largest tribes in the Arab world.

That background has played a crucial role in Yawar''s ability to calm tensions between Sunnis and Shia, and also in his efforts to encourage Sunnis to pursue political action rather than armed resistance. Yawar had a central role in negotiating an end to the siege of Fallujah in April.

"I've been trying to convince [Sunnis] that things have changed remarkably and we risk missing out if things continue like this," he said in an interview at his home earlier this year. At the same time, Yawar has sharply criticized U.S. policy in Iraq, decrying what he sees as the Coalition's tendency to use excessive force. The incoming president has blamed the worsening security situation in Iraq on what he sees as blunders by the U.S. military in recent weeks. Now it's his turn to try to make Iraq whole.