The Dawa party was formed in the late 1950s as a reaction to the rise of secular political movements in Iraq, particularly the communist party. Dawa later came into conflict with the secular pan-Arab Baathist movement during the 1960s, and violence erupted. Dawa had undercover members across the country, including a young medical student in Mosul: Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who's now the leading candidate for prime minister.
Dawa leader Muhammad Baqr al-Sadr was inspired by the Iranian revolution and was a proponent of an Islamic state with clerical rulers. In 1980 the Baathist government outlawed membership in Dawa, making it a crime punishable by death. That same year, Dawa attempted to assassinate an aide to Saddam Hussein, Tariq Aziz. Al-Sadr was captured and killed by Saddam's security forces. Assassination attempts against Saddam followed. There were large-scale roundups of Dawa members, who faced torture and death.
A Dawa splinter group staged two suicide bombings at the U.S. and French embassies in Kuwait in December 1983. Seventeen of them were caught, convicted and imprisoned by the Kuwaitis, including the brother-in-law of Imad Mugniyah, a Lebanese Hezbollah member who began taking Americans hostage in Beirut in an attempt to spring his wife's brother.
Many of Dawa's members, including al-Jaafari, returned from exile after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Its membership follows the direction of the majar'iya, the ruling council of clerics in Najaf headed by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
(Compiled by Tom Lasseter in Baghdad, Iraq)
(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.