BAGHDAD, Iraq – Ibrahim al-Jaafari (search), the 58-year-old politician in line to become Iraq's next prime minister, spent more than two decades in exile, mostly in Iran, leading anti-Saddam Hussein opposition forces following a bloody crackdown by the Iraqi dictator against Shiite Muslims.
Al-Jaafari, one of the top leaders of the Islamic Dawa Party (search), fled to Iran in 1980 and remained there until 1990, organizing cross-border attacks while studying Shiite theology in the city of Qom. He was seen as the leader of a pro-Tehran faction of Dawa with close ties to the country's clerical government — though he denies any such links.
The Dawa was Iraq's first Shiite Islamic political party, headed by one of its most popular clerics, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Baqer al-Sadr (search), who was executed by Saddam's regime in 1980. The Dawa Party uprising began in the late 1970s and was crushed by Saddam's forces in 1982. The group said it lost 77,000 members in its war against the Sunni Muslim dictator.
In the early 1980s, Dawa carried out several homicide bombings in Baghdad, and there was speculation that al-Jaafari was behind an attempt to assassinate the then Iraqi-allied emir of Kuwait. Al-Jaafari has denied involvement in the attack.
During his exile, he changed his surname from al-Ushayqer to al-Jaafari, fearing Saddam's intelligence services.
In 1990, al-Jaafari left Iran for England during a time when the Dawa Party split into two camps — one which backed closer ties with Iran and the other opposing Iranian influence.
He returned to Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 that toppled Saddam's regime and became a key member of the United Iraqi Alliance (search), a Shiite-led political coalition that included the Dawa Party and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the country's other main Shiite faction.
The coalition was endorsed by Iranian-born Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most influential Shiite cleric. Al-Jaafari's wife is a distant relative of al-Sistani's.
From 2003 to 2004, al-Jaafari was a member of the U.S.-picked Iraqi Governing Council, which was dissolved a few weeks before the U.S. occupation authority handed over sovereignty to the interim government in June 2004. He was the first of the council's nine rotating presidents.
Al-Jaafari told The Associated Press recently that Iraq will not become a battleground for other countries to fight the United States.
"No country in the world will be permitted to turn Iraq into a front line for confrontation with America or any others," he said.
Al-Jaafari was born in the Shiite holy city of Karbala, south of Baghdad, and was educated at Mosul University as a medical doctor.
A wily politician known for playing his cards close to his chest, he told The Associated Press in a recent interview that suspicion over his links with Iran was a "widespread, mistaken belief."
"An Iraqi remains an Iraqi all his life, wherever he goes," he said.