BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is under increasing political pressure to step aside as Sunni militants led by fighters from the al-Qaida breakaway Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant overrun much of northwestern Iraq. Al-Maliki, a Shiite who is looking to secure a third consecutive term after winning April elections, has proven himself to be a skilled politician and hard-nosed negotiator. But there are growing calls from all quarters – including fellow Shiite and senior clerics – for him to step aside. Here’s a look at some of the names being mentioned to possibly replace him:
– Ibrahim al-Jaafari: From the Shiite holy city of Karbala, al-Jaafari heads the National Reform Trend, which is part of the broad Shiite coalition. He has played a prominent role in Iraqi politics since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, serving on the American-appointed governing council and later as vice president in the interim government. He then served as prime minister in 2005 after the Shiite coalition won Iraq’s first elections after Saddam Hussein’s ouster. Iraq ratified a new constitution under his watch in the fall of 2005, and held fresh parliamentary elections that December. Al-Jaafari secured Shiite backing to remain prime minister after that vote, but Kurds and Sunnis rejected his candidacy as the sectarian violence in the country surged in early 2006. The Shiite coalition agreed to drop al-Jaafari and picked a politician who was viewed at the time as a compromise candidate: Nouri al-Maliki.
– Bayan Jabr: Jabr, a civil engineer by training, served as interior minister under Jaafari in 2005 as sectarian bloodletting began to surge across Iraq. At the time, the ministry was accused of running death squads that targeted Sunnis, although Jabr denied any knowledge or involvement in such killings. He later served as finance minister during Maliki’s first term in office, which ended in 2010. Since then he’s served as a lawmaker in parliament from the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council led by Shiite cleric Ammar al-Hakim, one of the most powerful Shiite parties.
– Adel Abdul-Mahdi: Born in Baghdad and trained as an economist in France, Abdul-Mahdi has been often touted as a potential prime minister. Abdul-Mahdi, like Jabr, is a stalwart of the Supreme Council, and he twice came close to assuming the post but missed out in both cases to candidates from al-Maliki’s Dawa Party. He served as vice president from 2006 to 2010, but his reputation was somewhat tarnished in 2009 when army officers seconded to his security detail were found to be involved in a deadly bank robbery.
– Ayad Allawi: Allawi, a secular Shiite and a surgeon by training, was chosen by the United States to lead Iraq as interim prime minister in 2004. He was trounced at the polls the following year, but has managed since to carve out a niche for himself as an alternative to religious-tinged politics by appealing to urban and educated Iraqis of all sects. A former member of Saddam’s Baath party, he survived an assassination attempt believed to have been ordered by the then-ruler. He later established an opposition group aimed at overthrowing the dictator. In Iraq’s post-Saddam order he has called for a greater say for the Sunni minority, and led a broad coalition focused on national identity rather than religious sect that won the most seats in Iraq’s 2010 parliamentary election. But he was outmaneuvered by Maliki, who after months of political jockeying – and Iranian and American arm-twisting – secured enough support to stay on for a second term.
– Ahmad Chalabi: A one-time Washington favorite, Chalabi has never secured a mass following inside the country. His relations with the United States soured when the intelligence he provided the Americans on Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction proved faulty. The U.S. also accused him in 2004 of spying for Iran. Chalabi is a secular Shiite who is widely disliked by the country’s Sunni Arab minority for the zeal he has shown in rooting out Saddam’s loyalists from jobs in the government, armed forces and security agencies. The Sunnis’ antipathy for Chalabi would likely limit his chances of replacing al-Maliki as a unifying figure.