Who is Adnan Zarfi (Zurufi), the new Iraqi PM designate: Sources, background and current events
Updated: Sep 1
Compiled by Seth J. Frantzman
Who is Adnan al-Zarfi (Zurufi عدنان الزرفي), the man tasked with forming yet another Iraqi government on March 17 by President Barham Salih. after almost six months of uncertainty, protests and increasing US-Iran tensions in Iraq, he has a major job ahead of himself. He will have a huge task ahead of him to try to build a coalition, deal with the rising anti-US rocket attacks by Iranian-backed groups, rebuild Sunni areas, fight an ISIS insurgency, come to a budget agreement with the autonomous Kurdish region and manage parliamentary demands for US withdrawal.
He has been active in Najaf for many years. Accused of "irresponsible statements" in a legal dispute last year as a member of parliament. In the fall of 2019 his name was already put forward as a possible replacement for Adel Abdul Mahdi. An MP said that there was a "meeting where it was discussed the challenges of getting out of the [protest] crisis, pointing to the existence of alternative names put forward in the meeting, in the event of Abdul Mahdi’s resignation, as the governor of Basra, Asaad al-Aydani, MP Adnan al-Zarfi, and former Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, Mohammed Shiaa al-Sudani."
During the protests he was outspoken several times. In December when parliament failed to convene on Sunday for the fourth consecutive day after Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi failed to attend. One reports notes "Nasr Coalition deputy Adnan Zarfi warned political leaders against losing their “last chance” and said authorities must not commit their previous mistakes, rather they must listen to the demands of the youth."
In February 2019 Muqtada al-Sadr and Hadi al-Amiri were campaigning in favor of a vote to end American military presence in the country. Kurdistan 24 noted "However, Zarfi, pointing to the 'worrying' security situation in Iraq, warned the legislature against “rushing” to pass such a law, but reassured that it would be 'difficult' to do so." In the spring of 2018, as Najaf governor, Zarfi sought to reconcile Haider Abadi and Ali Sistani. He was pushed out as Najaf governor in 2015. He was an active parliamentarian from Najaf since then.
His appointment is argued by some to be supported by Muqtada al-Sadr, factions within the Fatah Alliance, Haider al-Abadi and even Hikma. He may have faced opposition from Nouri al-Maliki, some elements of Badr and Asaib Ahl al-Haq. Others say that the opposite is true, that he faces opposition from Hikma's Ashura militia. They note "those reject to the commission of Adnan Al-Zorfi [sic]: The Sadr movement is the owner of the Saraya Salam Brigades militia, the Al-Fatih block [Fatah Alliance], the Badr militia. Hikmat Bloc and its Ashura militia. Sadikon bloc with the Asaib Ahl Al-Haq militia."
It is thought he will have the same hurdles as Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi.
Active in reconstruction after 2003
He was outspoken after the US-led invasion in 2003. A Wall Street Journal piece mentioned him:"The governor of this holy city wanted a 51-year-old Texan named Brent Blaschke to improve the deteriorating security on the main road. 'People believe you can do a lot more,' said the governor, Adnan al-Zarfi." He was seen as independent in reports. He was also involved in mediating the 2004 clashes with Muqtada al-Sadr. At the time The Guardian noted "The attack on the vast cemetery near the Imam Ali mosque, Najaf's holiest site, followed a night of intermittent gunfire. Adnan al-Zarfi, the governor of Najaf, yesterday gave US forces approval to enter the mosque complex, which the US claims is being used by Mr Sadr's loyalists as a launchpad for attacks."
Zarfi (often known as Zurufi in some documents in English) is mentioned in US diplomatic cables. In one cable in 2004 the US met with him and other members of Najaf's political establishment, including "Talal Bilal, the Governor's aide and close friend" and Dawa party member Provincial Council Chair Shayk Fa'ad. At this time Muqtada al Sadr had signed an agreement after the intervention of Ali Sistani into Najaf's crises. "They further feel that the agreement al-Sadr signed has strengthened the Iraqi Government's ability to move against al-Sadr if the Mahdi Militia takes up arms once again." Assessments at the time in Najaf indicated to theUS that Jaysh al Mahdi would "splinter" between "extremists" such as Qais Khazali (eventually founder of Asaib Ahl al-Haq) and others who might join the Dawa party. "Fa'ad speculated that some elements of the Jaysh al-Mahdi might be absorbed into the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)." The cable notes there "was a schism in the party [SCIRI], and within its Badr Corps, over how closely the party should remain aligned to Iran....Other members, including Badr Corps commanders such as Mahdi Muhandis, wanted to have closer ties with Iran. Fa'ad alleged that individuals like Muhandis had made early overtures to the Jaysh al-Mahdi movement and may now look to absorb these erstwhile allies, and by extension the resources of their Iranian backers, into SCIRI." The US killed Muhandis andIRGC commander Qasem Soleimani on January 3, 2020. "All three men [including Zarfi] agree that al-Sadr is finished politically. "Governor Zurufi shares Talal's assessment that al-Sadr is finished politically. The Governor also agrees that if al-Sadr violates the points of the proposal that the government will be on much firmer ground to move against him."
:Governor Zurufi shares Talal's assessment that al-Sadr is finished politically. The Governor also agrees that if al- Sadr violates the points of the proposal that the government will be on much firmer ground to move against him." - August 27, 2004
Zarfi sought funds for Najaf. He pushed for an oil investment project in 2010. "Najaf Governor Adnan al-Zarfi told Aswat al-Iraq news agency. The project is expected to produce 400,000 barrels of oil per day and will provide the province with $400 million a year, he added." He wanted more investment in agriculture in 2011. "Najaf governor announced the availability of great water storage in Najaf desert enough for 25 years, stressing granting licenses to cultivate 70.000 dunams in the desert area that will depend on underground waters. Governor Adnan al-Zarfi told Aswat al-Iraq that the province made an agricultural plan to depend on underground waters, instead of the Euphrates River." He pushed for more school the same year. "Najaf Governor Adnan al-Zarfi as criticizing the Education Ministry for the delay in constructing new schools in the governorate,"
In 2013 he pushed for a new airport "Najaf Governor Adnal Al-Zarfi disclosed that there are plans to increase the space of Najaf city by new housing complexes as well as industrial and agricultural projects."
When the US left Iraq in 2011 he made comments to The New York Times. The article is quoted in part below: "'Before 2003, 90 percent of Najaf people liked Iranians,' said the governor, Adnan al-Zurufi, who has lived in Chicago and Michigan and holds American citizenship. 'Now, 90 percent hate them. Iran likes to take, not give.' Near midnight, Mr. Zurufi held court at a cafe, his team of bodyguards standing sentry at the door, frisking patrons. Outside, a convoy of white sport utility vehicles waited, and nearby, down a crooked alleyway, thousands of visitors took in the nighttime serenity of the Imam Ali Shrine, one of the holiest sites for the Shiite diaspora, where millions of Iranians flock every year. Mr. Zurufi's comments cut against the grain of what is commonly understood about the influence of Iran in southern Iraq, where the two countries have a common religious bond - both are majority Shiite - but where nationality competes with sect." - October 8, 2011
The article noted that he was appointed in 2004 by L.Paul Bremer III, then the top American administrator in Iraq, elected to the same job in 2009 and that he was pro-American. "Not only did the Americans refuse a request by Mr. Zarfi and other officials to open a consulate in Najaf, the State Department's Provincial Reconstruction Team in Najaf actually shut down earlier than scheduled this summer after local clerical pressure, particularly from officials loyal to Mr. Sadr, who spends most of his time in Iran."
We analyzed Arabic tweets about him, including here and here and there is video of him meeting Iraq's President. A photo of an alleged US passport he has was also put up. Protesters have said he will fail. He has been accused of being close to the US, Qatar and having mismanaged Najaf. "He failed to manage a province, how can he manage the country," one twitter user asks. These critics also see him as linked to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and close to the US. Photos allegedly show him with US soldiers. Other critics accused him of corruption in schemes at Najaf airport and of harming protesters in the city. A note by protesters was also posted saying they vow to topple him. A decree appointing him was put online and video shows him with the press.
Reports online about his appointment can be found at Rudaw and Al-Mayadeen. According to these reports Monday, Sadr's Sairoon called on Iraqi President Barham Salih (برهم صالح) to name the new prime minister after the major blocs failed to reach a compromise candidate. There had been rumors that Naim Al-Suhail would be tapped. Pressure was rising also from Khazali and others
US Department of Defense assessment
A lengthy report about his appointment from 2004. We have added it in full:
A former prisoner of the Saddam Hussein regime who returned to Iraq from exile last year has been appointed as the new governor of Najaf province, coalition administrator Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III announced today in Baghdad. Emphasizing that Iraqi authorities and the coalition are cooperating to reaffirm the rule of law and to restore order to the middle Euphrates area, Bremer said Adnan al- Zurufi's appointment will enhance that cooperation. Bremer said he appointed Zurufi as Najaf's governor now because the difficulties and sufferings of the people of the middle Euphrates region can't wait for the turnover of sovereignty on June 30 and national elections in January.
"He is the right man for the job at this time," Bremer said. "A sports hero as a youth, Governor Zurufi showed his love of justice as the head of an anti-Saddam student organization. This led to his imprisonment and escape from Saddam's jails. He participated in the 1991 Iraq intifada, and was eventually forced into exile. He returned to Najaf in April last year." Zurufi, a member of the Bani Hassan tribe, earned a degree in Islamic law at Alfik College, the Islamic jurisprudence college, in Najaf. "Governor Zurufi's attachment to Najaf and his proven willingness to fight for justice will serve the people well as he administers the government," Bremer pointed out. Radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is believed to be in the city of Najaf, and has continued to incite his followers to violence. Iraqi authorities have issued an arrest warrant for Sadr in connection with the murder of a prominent Shiia cleric. "The contrast between Governor Zurufi's love of justice and the behavior of another individual in the middle Euphrates could not be more stark," Bremer said. "Over the past few months, one man and armed elements under his control have spread lawlessness, fear and economic paralysis, especially in Najaf and Karbala." - By Rudi Williams, American Forces Press Service, WASHINGTON, May 6, 2004.
He is remembered as a former team member of the Iraq Reconstruction and Development Council (IRDC), a US Department of Defense supported group. This led to his appointment in 2004 and later his work with the government during the Sadr crises in 2004. He was a target of some IED and other attacks between 2004 and 2006. Wikipedia cays he is a member of the Bani Hassan tribe and has a degree from Alfik College. The latter is taken from the DoD statement in 2004.
A CV posts online has the following details:
CV of Adnan Al-Zarfi: This was apparently taken from the official page of Al Wafa Movement.
Name: Adnan Abdul-Khudair Abbas Matar Al-Zarfi
Birthplace: An Najaf, 1 January 1966
Parents: Iraqis born in Najaf
Education: Bachelor’s graduate from Kufa University, College of Jurisprudence
M.A degree: Kufa University, Faculty of Jurisprudence
Ph.D: Research phase, University of Kufa, College of Jurisprudence
Affiliation with the Islamic Dawa Party in 1983
Imprisonment and life imprisonment in Abu Ghraib prison, 1998-1991
Escape from Abu Ghraib Prison 2/22/1991
Participation in the popular uprising 3/1/1991 in Najaf
Injured three times during the popular uprising
Establishment of the Iraqi Al-Wafa Movement 2004
From 1991-1994 in Rafha camp in Saudi Arabia
1994-2003 in the United States of America
Member of the Iraq Reconstruction Authority team 2003-2004
Governor of Najaf: 2004-2005
Member of the Najaf Provincial Council and head of the Al-Wafa bloc of Najaf 2006
Assistant Undersecretary for Intelligence Affairs, Ministry of Interior 2006-2009
Governor of Najaf Al-Ashraf 2009-2013
Governor of Najaf al-Ashraf 2013-2015
Secretary General of the Iraqi Al-Wafa Movement
1- A democratic patriot who believes in the independence of Iraq from all foreign dependencies and calls for a unified Iraq in which sectarian and national differences are removed and based on citizenship.
2- He believes in developing the national economy and the economic well-being of citizens
3- He believes that Iraq is an Arab and Islamic country that plays an important role in the stability and building of the Arab and Islamic region and is a point of balance for preserving the region’s interests ..
The CVs are taken from the official page of Al Wafa Movement.
Opposition to his appointment
A report posted online notes why he should be opposed:
"The nomination of any person accused of corruption for any important position as a betrayal of the size of the position to which he is nominated, and whoever nominates corrupt or endorses a corrupt nomination, or is silent about the nomination of a corrupt is a partner in corruption, and encourages him knowingly and previously insistently, as he is responsible for the results.
1 - Mr. Adnan Al-Zarfi had previously held the position of Governor of Najaf for several years, ending in his conviction for corruption, and dismissing him from his position fundamentally and a decision to dismiss him from the Presidency of the Republic was issued by Republic Decree No. 64 of September 17, 2015, signed by former President Fouad Masum. And who is dismissed because he is not fit for a conservative position, how can he be assigned to the highest position in the state?
2 - Iraq is going through a critical stage represented in the struggle to preserve its independence and sovereignty in front of foreign forces that violate its sovereignty over its airspace and exercise combat operations without the permission of its government and bomb Iraqi government forces without the approval of the executive authority, and kill Iraqi citizens, thereby attacking the powers of the judicial authority The exclusive right to investigation, conviction, punishment, and execution for any violation committed by an Iraqi citizen. There is no doubt that the prime minister’s first mission in these circumstances is to preserve Iraqi sovereignty from any force that violates it, hold it accountable and take the necessary measures to preserve the sovereignty of Iraq, and this does not come with the nomination of a person closely related to the entity that violates the sovereignty of the Iraqi state and kills its citizens in cold blood.
3 - While the Iraqi people take pride in the heroic fighters of the popular crowd [PMU] who liberated Iraq from ISIS and made in this way the most precious sacrifices, nominating those who sympathize with the forces attacking the popular crowd means confronting the outrage of the overwhelming majority of Iraqis who are jealous of the popular crowd and who appreciate their sacrifices, Which shocks the hopes of the majority of honest Iraqis ... and makes the new prime minister in front of two ways that have no third: satisfying the loyal masses of those who liberated the homeland from ISIS, or satisfying the foreigner who declares his war against those who liberated the homeland from ISIS.
4 - The name of Adnan Al-Zarfi was mentioned among those involved in the recent events of Najaf, including the burning of public and private property, attacks and armed violence that led to the loss of life, making his commission before the results of the investigation of these events appear an irresponsible act that denotes the disregard for the civil rights of the people of Najaf and disregards the blood of its citizens.
5 - In all cases, Adnan Al-Zarfi is a figure that is not suitable for this sensitive position in this sensitive circumstance. Whoever is not fit for a conservative administration is not suitable for state administration, and whoever is not entrusted with a conservative treasury does not trust a state treasury, and it is sufficient for the President of the Republic to review a chapter file Al-Zarfi is from the position of the governor of Najaf to brief himself on the reasons for his dismissal, and the reasons for it, which clearly indicate his non-suitability for any public office or serious responsibility."