The first person to be titled amir al-umara was the commander Harun ibn Gharib, a cousin of the Caliph al-Muqtadir (r. 908–932), in 928. He was followed soon after by his rival, the eunuch Mu'nis al-Muzaffar (845–933), who served as commander-in-chief of the caliphal army and the power behind the throne for most of al-Muqtadir's reign. From 928, Mu'nis was involved in a tumultuous power struggle with his rivals in the court's civilian bureaucracy, which ended with the deposition and execution of al-Muqtadir in 932, and his replacement with his brother al-Qahir (r. 932–934). Mu'nis and the military were now dominant in the affairs of the Abbasid court, beginning a period of troubles that was, in the words of the historian Hugh Kennedy, "dominated by the struggles of military men to control the caliphate and, perhaps more importantly, the revenues of the Sawad which would enable them to satisfy the demands of their followers".
Mu'nis himself was executed by al-Qahir in 933, but in 934 another palace coup deposed al-Qahir and replaced him with ar-Radi (r. 934–940). The frequent coups and violent struggle for control of the Caliphate greatly enfeebled the central government in Baghdad. Effective control over the Maghreb and Khurasan had long been lost, but now autonomous rulers emerged in the provinces closer to Iraq: Egypt and Bilad al-Sham were ruled by the Ikhshidid dynasty, the Hamdanid dynasty had secured control over Upper Mesopotamia, and most of Iran was ruled by Daylamite dynasties, among whom the Buyids were most prominent. Even in Iraq itself, the authority of the caliphal government was challenged. Thus in the south, around Basra, Abu Abdallah al-Baridi established his own domain, often refusing to send tax revenues to Baghdad and establishing contacts with the Buyids of nearby Fars. The historian Ali ibn al-Athir (d. 1233) asserted that after the death of Mu'nis, the post of amir al-umara fell to Tarif al-Subkari, who was also head of the treasury.
Finally, in November 936, the failure of the vizier Ibn Muqla to control the provincial governors and confront the disastrous financial situation of the Caliphate, led to the appointment of the governor of Wasit, Muhammad ibn Ra'iq, to the position of amir al-umara. The authority granted to Ibn Ra'iq and his successors was sweeping. According to the contemporary scholar Miskawayh, he was named governor of Baghdad and commander-in-chief of the army, was entrusted with the collection of the kharaj land tax and the supervision of all public estates, as well as the maintenance of security. He was also granted a banner and robes of office, as well as the privileges of being addressed by his kunya, and his name added to the caliph's during the Friday prayer. In effect, writes Miskawayh, the caliph "resigned to him the government of the kingdom". Henceforth, effective power in both military and civil administrations passed from the caliph to the amir al-umara and his secretary, who ran the civilian administration. Ibn Ra'iq took care to deprive the caliph of his last support base by disbanding the old household bodyguard, replacing them as the core of the caliphal army with his own Turks and Daylamites.
Despite his extraordinary authority, however, Ibn Ra'iq failed to stabilize the situation and a decade-long complicated power struggle between various regional leaders followed for the office of amir al-umara. On 9 September 938 Ibn Ra'iq was deposed by his former subordinate, the Turk Bajkam, who secured his own succession to the post four days later, and ruled until his death by Kurdish brigands on 21 April 941. Caliph al-Muttaqi (r. 940–944), raised to the throne by Bajkam after al-Radi's death, now tried to restore civilian rule, appointing Ibn Maymun and then Abu Abdallah al-Baridi as viziers, but the military retook control under the leadership of Kurankij, who became amir al-umara on 1 July.