Adel Abdul Mahdi
Adel Abdul Mahdi (Reuters)
Wednesday, March 19, 2008

BAGHDAD Adel Abdul Mahdi began his life in the new Iraq with a gag in his mouth.

The man who would become one of Iraq's vice presidents was captured by U.S. troops less than a month after the invasion, as he left a meeting in the Republican Palace with other returning exiles. He was shoved, insulted, handcuffed and held for nearly 24 hours, he recalled.

The next five years would bring moments much worse for the Shiite leader, who considers himself less a politician than a fighter for Iraq's freedom. He says he has survived an average of four assassination attempts per year.

A prominent figure in the Shiite political party now known as the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, Mahdi was a leading candidate to become prime minister until Nouri al-Maliki seized the post. After the second bombing of the holy Shiite shrine in Samarra last June, and amid the sectarian violence paralyzing the Iraqi government, Mahdi resigned, but ultimately held onto his job.

"Everything blew up in 2003," he said. "Nothing was in place."

"We went to the climax of things. And a radical change took place," he added. "Now people are sitting in the same room around the same table discussing very difficult issues such as federalism, such as democracy."

What Iraq needs now, he said, is an infusion of new ideas -- ways to keep the lights on, pump oil from the ground, build up the Iraqi army to take over for the American soldiers.

"We are trying to accommodate ourselves to a new situation, and this will only be done by time. Sunnis, Shias, Kurds, Turkmen trying to work together, that was a dream in Iraq, now it's real," he said. "So now we are talking. . . . It is not efficient. We agree. But things are getting much better. One year ago, people were fighting. Now, well, they are fighting in words. This is much better than fighting."

-- Joshua Partlow

© 2008 The Washington Post Company