- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 6, 2004

BAGHDAD — Once, stewing in his vehicle at one of this city’s many tiresome checkpoints, Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer — the interim president of Iraq — lost his cool. He angrily ordered his driver to pull out and make a U-turn into oncoming traffic.

“He’s courteous, except when you get him angry,” said an aide to a member of Iraq’s now-dissolved Governing Council. “Then the tribal chief begins taking over.”

Described as blunt, energetic and quick-tempered, the 46-year-old Mr. al-Yawer is a leader of the Shamar tribe, which has both Shi’ite and Sunni members in Iraq and other parts of the Persian Gulf. Though he lived abroad for much of the last two decades, he is by all accounts passionate about Iraq.

“Najaf, Fallujah, Zakho, Basra, Mosul and Kirkuk are all like parts of a beautiful face,” he said in a recent interview on Abu Dhabi television. “If one of these parts is disfigured, the entire face would be disfigured.”

Mr. al-Yawer was born in Mosul, where his fellow tribesmen celebrated his elevation to interim president last week by firing gunshots into the air. His uncle is the Shamar tribe’s overall leader; his grandfather served as an Iraqi parliamentarian until 1958.

A civil engineer, Mr. al-Yawer studied at Georgetown University in Washington as well as in Saudi Arabia, where he lived and worked as vice president of a technology company until after Saddam Hussein’s fall last year.

Throughout his years abroad, he kept his distance from the colorful cluster of exiled opposition groups dedicated to overthrowing Saddam’s regime. He was named last summer as one of the nine rotating presidents of the Iraqi Governing Council.

Though tribal in his appearance and values, he’s also “a pretty modern man” with a nationalistic rather than a tribal outlook, said an aide to a Governing Council member. Though a Sunni, his mixed tribal background has forced him to pay attention to the country’s majority Shi’ite sect.

“Among the 25 members of the Governing Council, he was the only one who was a real Arab,” said Jaffar Saheb Said, an elder at the holy shrine of the Imam Kadhem, a Shi’ite saint, in northern Baghdad.

“He’s well-known and deep rooted among Arab clans. He’s able to navigate between both Shias and Sunnis and solve their problems.”

But his strengths could turn into weaknesses. The same tribal affiliations that give him his natural base of supporters could create problems for him should his tribe come into conflict with another one or with the policies of the interim government.

The energy that compelled other Governing Council members to rally around him over U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi’s favorite, Adnan Pachachi, sometimes manifests itself in undiplomatic behavior.

When he was at one point told by Mr. Brahimi and U.S. civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer that he wouldn’t get the presidency, Mr. al-Yawer stormed out of the meeting vowing to boycott the ceremony and the entire process, a Governing Council member said.

In his car, he called the other members of the Governing Council from his mobile phone and demanded that they begin leaking word to the media that the United States and United Nations were trying to strong-arm the Iraqis.

They did, and ultimately Mr. al-Yawer got his way.

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