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Iraq's Next Ruler: Abdul al-Aziz al-Hakim
Hakim is the first candidate listed on the United Iraqi Coalition, the slate that consolidates electoral hopes for the country's Shiite majority for the Jan. 30 election. He has headed the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq since his older brother, Ayatollah Mohammed Bakir Hakim, was killed by a car bomb in August 2003.
Al-Zaman reports via AFP that Shaikh Naji al-Abbudi, a representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, spoke at a conference on the upcoming elections in the southern Shiite city of Diwaniyah on Sunday, and said something that is explosive if it is true. He alleged that Sistani is throwing his support to the slate of the United Iraqi Alliance, which is led by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim (the party head of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq). At the close of the conference, al-Abbudi said in an address to 1500 clerics and clan heads that Sistani wants the elections held on schedule and that he affirms his support of Slate 169, the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA). He explained that Sistani supports this slate because of its Islamic coloration and the ability of its leaders to move the country toward a better future. Al-Abbudi said that Sistani wanted to safeguard the name of Islam.
He continued that this slate had confronted a virtual war on it only because it contains all the major tendencies and groups in Iraqi society. When Sistani discovered that the other slates were using television, newspapers, and international media to do election campaigning, he therefore called clearly for support for the UIA. [Implied is that Sistani hopes his moral authority will outweigh the slick advertising and media press conferences of rival politicians such as interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.]
Al-Hakim meets Marjaiyah, sets to announce political program
HOLY NAJAF, Iraq: The head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) Sayyed Abdul Aziz Al-Hakim held talks with Al-Marjaiyah Ad-Diniyah in Holy Najaf on Friday night.
Abdul Aziz Al-Hakim is the son of late Grand Marjay of Shiia World Grand Ayatullah Sayyed Mohasin Al-Hakim.
During the three-hour meeting with Ayatullah Sayyed Ali As-Sistani, Al-Hakim apprised him details of his two-week visit to several countries that included Iran, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey. Many other topics including Iraq upcoming elections were also came under discussion.
Later, the SCIRI head visited Ayatullah Sayyed Muhammad Said Al-Hakim in the Holy Najaf and discussed the same topics.
Meanwhile, Abdul Aziz Al-Hakim on Saturday refused to become involved in an argument over accusations that Tehran is interfering in Iraqi politics.
“We expected this kind of irresponsible and inaccurate statements and we don't want a polemic,” Al-Hakim said. “We trust the people to vote for those candidates who are supported by their religious leaders.”
He said that he would announce his party's political program over the next few days, adding that the main themes would be respect for the Iraqi people's Islamic identity and protecting the political participation of all Iraq's ethnic and religious groups. Other items on the program include good relations with neighboring countries, the fight against terrorism and improving Iraqis' living conditions.
Outside the office of Abdul al-Aziz al-Hakim, formerly the home of Tariq Aziz, one of the best-known faces of Saddam Hussein's regime, the pneumatic drills were clattering away, preparing fortifications to protect the man widely tipped to win the Jan 30 elections.
Scarred buildings nearby and a scorched palm tree bear witness to the huge car bomb that went off at the gate last Dec 27, killing 15 of his guards.
Inside, symbols of death and Shia martyrdom are everywhere. On the wall of Mr Hakim's reception room is a large portrait of his brother, Ayatollah Mohammad Baqer al-Hakim. He was blown to smithereens with 80 other people by an even bigger bomb in the Shia holy city of Najaf in August 2003, only three months after his triumphal return from exile in Iran.
On all the coffee tables there are large bouquets of flowers brought by well-wishers to congratulate Mr Hakim on surviving the attempt on his life.
A card on one reads: "May God preserve you as an asset for the Iraqis - Ali Radi al-Haidari, governor of Baghdad." Mr Haidari was shot dead on his way to work two days after his visit.
Responsibility for the death of the governor and for the attempt on Mr Hakim's life was claimed by the al-Qa'eda-linked Sunni militant group headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. He promised to redouble his efforts to kill the "apostate" Shia leader.
Yesterday Mr Hakim dismissed the insurgents as terrorist gangs, Islamic fanatics and Saddam remnants whose mission was doomed to fail.
"What we say to these groups is that their operations will not deflect us from our path," he told The Telegraph. "We will stand by the Iraqi people. The movement of the people does not depend on one person, or two, or 10, or 1,000. The Iraqis will cut these people down to size."
Mr Hakim, who is the first candidate of the United Iraqi Alliance, which groups all the main Shia factions, blamed the Americans for the success of the insurgents.
"They adopted wrong policies," he said. "Nobody welcomes the US forces or wants them to stay."
He said they made two basic errors, one military, one political: not relying on "forces from the people", such as Mr Hakim's powerful Badr Brigade, and not allowing the formation of a provisional Iraqi government immediately after the overthrow of the Ba'athists.
Mr Hakim and many of his followers spent most of the past two decades in Iran, which armed and trained the Badr Brigade, and their Farsi is as good as their Arabic. But he played down American worries about Iranian influence in Iraq.
"I do not believe these fears are justified," he said. "Iran just wants good neighbourly relations. No Iraqi welcomes the presence of any foreign country, Iran included - any influence, any tutelage, anything like that. Independence is a principle we insist on. We reject interference in our internal affairs, from Iran or anyone else."
The elections are expected to give the Shia, who comprise around 60 per cent of the population, a majority share of power at last, with Mr Hakim as their most prominent political figure.
He insisted that an election victory would not herald an attempt to impose an Iranian-style Islamic republic or the political demise of the Sunnis, who dominated under Saddam. He also ruled out a civil war between Sunnis and Shia, which many predict.
"We do not want there to be any imposing, any monopoly of power," he said.
"We believe in the principle of freedom. The best solution for Iraq is to go to the people and not to permit any group to seize power."
Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI, al-Majlis al-A‘la lil-Thawra al-Islamiyya fil-‘Iraq): the most prominent Shi‘a political grouping, with its main constituency in Southern Iraq and its base in Tehran. Was established on 17 November 1982 with the support of Iran (and during intense persecution of al-Da'wa), and was led by Muhammad Baqr al-Hakim (b.1939/1944? in Najaf, the 6th son of Muhsin al-Hakim; leading role in the 1977 Safar intifada; imprisoned in 1972, 1977 and 1979, fleeing to Iran on his release in 1980; biography from SCIRI here; interviews here from Dec01 and Oct02: 1,2). Hakim was officially the "speaker" until 1986, when he became chairman, a position he retained until his death. A central committee with 15 or 16 members has always been the chief body, which incorporates representatives from Kurdish Hizbullah (Muhammad Khalid Barzani, made up largely of Barzanis who stayed in Iran after the 1975 defeat) and the Islamic Task Organisation (Muhammad Taqi al-Mudarrisi). Hakim was named by Ayatollah Khomeini as the head of an Islamic Republic of Iraq. From its inception, it has purported to represent all the Muslims of Iraq (including the Sunnis), and has portrayed Iran as the foundation of the World Islamic Revolution; it has been the only major Iraqi Islamist group to support the notion of the wilayat al-faqih (guardianship of the jurisprudent) in the future Iraqi system of government, with the same faqih as Iran (but with a separate legislature). They had also taken on Khomeini's rhetoric of anti-imperialism, with Hakim presenting the struggle in 1982 as between Islam and imperialism, with imperialism represented by the (US/SU-supported) Ba'th regime.
SCIRI was created to act as a provisional government for Basra in the event of its capture. Its initial military force was named Liwa' al-Sadr (al-Sadr regiment), which became Faylaq Badr (the Badr corps). Its first major action was when approx.200 of its members secured the village of Haj Umran near Sulaymaniyya in 1983. It is recruited largely from Iraqi Shi'a prisoners ("penitents" = tawabin) captured by Iran during the 1980-8 war (Hakim had been given the role of coordinating family visits to Iraqi POWs, and SCIRI was part of the special committee created in 1987 on Iraqi POWs in Iran), and was initially under the command of an Iranian colonel. SCIRI members, through front organisation al-Mujahidin, also conducted attacks on Kuwait, due to its support for Iraq: attacked the US embassy in Dec83 and attempted to assassinate the amir of Kuwait in Apr85. SCIRI's executive director, Abu Thar al-Hasan, died in Jan88 of the chemical wounds he received from an Iraqi attack on Hajj Umran in Nov87. Opposed the US-led war in 1991, claiming the invasion of Kuwait was a pretext for aggression against the Iraqi people; called on Iraqis to confront foreign aggression. Remains close to the conservative establishment in Iran, especially Ayatollah Ali Khamene'i; Iran's head of judiciary since Aug99, Ayatollah Mahmud Shahrudi (who is of Iraqi origin), was a leading member of SCIRI in its early years. Reportedly declined participation in the INC's 3-man presidential council from Oct92, claiming that Shi'a representation should be more than 1 in 3. Took seats in the executive council however, although participation was severely limited from 1994; suspended participation in the INC from 1999.
Estimates of SCIRI's present strength vary: the CPA estimated (Jun04) that Badr corps had 16,500 active fighters. Most estimates had placed it at about 10,000 guerrillas in total. It had made claims to having 8000 operating inside south/central Iraq prior to the ousting of the Ba'th (including the Badr corps, operating out of Iran; later reports from Jan03 put the strength of the Badr Brigades at 10-12,000, with a leader claiming it has three sectors) and once claimed to have 70,000 fighters in 2 training camps in Sulaymaniyya. Was selected by the US for funding through the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, an offer which it refused. In Dec01, seemed to welcome outside military intervention to topple Saddam, and supported a 1-year transitional government followed by elections; however, from early 2002 (and Bush's inclusion of Iran within the "axis of evil"), voiced opposition (Feb, Mar, Jun) to a US invasion of Iraq, arguing that this would cause unnecessary suffering & lead to a US occupation of the country. However, with Iranian permission, continues contacts with US, with a delegation headed by 'Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim (head of SCIRI's military wing and then deputy leader; Muhammad Baqr's younger brother; interview here) attending the Washington meeting on 9Aug02; continued to oppose US military action after the meeting, but agreed to cooperation militarily with the KDP in Sept02 (see KDP notes); from late Oct02, was indicating that US assistance might be welcome in overthrowing Saddam, as long as the US does not have a role in establishing a post-Saddam government (1,2,3): possibly could be interpreted as requesting US protection (esp from fear of Iraq's readiness to use non-conventional weapons on insurgents) rather than US intervention. Has been ambiguous in its support for a federal Iraq, giving the concept formal support whilst speaking of popular acceptance as a necessary precondition. Participated in "Group of 4" meetings (with INA, PUK & KDP) to coordinate opposition outside the framework of the INC; and established its dominance at the London conference of December 2002, reflected in the scale of its representation on the follow-up committee. Seemed to have come to coordinate more closely with the INC, with Hakim holding a meeting with Chalabi in Tehran on 9Dec02. However, problems arose in Jan03, when the US made it clear that it envisaged a longer term military occupation of Iraq; this was denounced by SCIRI. Reportedly moved a large number of its troops (up to 5000) into northern Iraq in mid-Feb03, to prepare for a US assault on Iraq, despite US warnings.
During the US invasion, SCIRI urged its followers not to oppose the US forces, but to remain neutral, and for the UN to take over the administration of Iraq; however, as the plans to install a new administration in Iraq became clear, it has become more vocal in opposing US measures: it boycotted the Nasiriya meeting of 15 April to plan a post-Saddam Iraq, and the Badr brigade has taken control of towns near the Iranian border (eg Baqubah); it sent a low-level delegation to the Baghdad meeting of 28Apr. Its main base is now Kut, where 'Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim has been based since 16Apr; SCIRI has installed Sayyid Abbas (b.1951?) as mayor, despite US opposition and attempts to evict him from the mayor's mansion. SCIRI now strongly supports the end to the US military presence in Iraq immediately, and argues that an Islamic republic will be installed through the majority support of the people after an intermediate stage. In early May, Iranian newspapers reported that Muhammad Baqr al-Hakim was considering relinquishing the leadership to 'Abd al-Aziz, in order to become the spiritual figurehead. On 10May, Muhammad Baqr crossed over to Basra, where he rallied huge crowds there, in al-Nasiriya and Samawa, before returning to Najaf, calling for a withdrawal of US forces and the establishment of an Islamist state, but disavowing the use of force to achieve this. Other SCIRI spokespersons describe the goal not as a theocracy but as a state in which religion plays a significant role (eg Bayan Jabr, May03; Hamid al-Bayati, May03). The Badr brigades seem to have only given up their heavy weapons in the amnesty, and the US has made forcible attempts to disarm them of other weapons by taking over SCIRI offices (eg, in al-Jadiriya, Baghdad on 21Jun, Wasit and Kut on c.23Jun). Nevertheless, SCIRI has continued to condemn attacks on US forces (eg sermon of Muhammad Baqr on 27Jun), and accepted a place on the Governing Council for 'Abd al-Aziz. Muhammad Baqr al-Hakim was assassinated in the Najaf bombing of 29 August 2003; 'Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim has taken over leadership, with some viewing his son, Muhsin, as likely to take over his role in the Governing Council. An assassination attempt on 'Abd al-Aziz on 21Nov03 in a Baghdad mosque failed as the rocket did not explode. There was a bomb attack on the Badr brigades' headquarters in Baghdad on 19Dec03
Other leaders of SCIRI include Hamid al-Bayati (spokesperson, based in London, rep to the UK since 1992; interview of May03), Muhammad al-Haydari (head of the Political Bureau), Ibrahim Hammudi (Hakim's political advisor), Bayan Jabr (Damascus rep, and head of Arab & international affairs; has coordinated with US since 1993), Adil 'Abd al-Mahdi (president of SCIRI, also supported by them in May04 for the position of Iraqi prime minister), Ali Ha'iri (president of the general assembly), Muhammad Ali Rahmani (commander of exile mobilization), Muhammad Mahdi al-Asifi, 'Abd al-Rahim al-Shawki, Muhammad Hariri (representative in Lebanon), Hajj Abu Zaid, Abu Islam al-Saqir (spokesman), Warith al-Kindi (information officer). It has offices in northern Iraq, Syria, the UK (West Kensington), France, Austria and Germany as well as Iran. It opened an office in Washington in late 2002. Website here; older version here. Its regular newspaper is al-'Adalah (issued three times a week in 2004); also has an occasional newspaper, Nida'a al-Rafidayn.
PBS Frontlines Interview With Hakim
My focus is on both the ethnic differences within Iraq and the sectarian differences. As a leader of [the] Iraqi Shia majority, what can you do or say to reduce the fears of the Sunni minority regarding Shia majority rule?
We are working hard to consolidate our contacts and our relations with all people. Included are the Arab Sunnis, with whom we have many contacts. We try to certify for them that we are with them and that we defend their rights, and defend [them] as we do defend our own rights, and we defend the rights of the whole Iraqi people.
We do not want them to be [left out]. We want them to be part of the government or the rule of this country, and they should be present. They should actively participate or contribute to all the [governing] formations and the decision making in Iraq. They should, of course; with them we share the responsibility of the [decision making].
Of course, if you look back on the history and to the stances that were adopted by our late father, and then our brothers -- anybody who was well aware of the history can agree with us.
The history shows some evidence -- for instance, the uprising in the 1920s, of Shias and Sunnis working together. But doesn't the history also show quite a lot of strain and stress between the sects?
We can't say that there has been stress between the two sects throughout history. On the contrary, there was a kind of peaceful coexistence between the Sunnis and the Shiites. There were Shiites marrying Sunnis, and vice versa. Shiites and Sunnis worked together and they went to the same schools, they went to the same universities. This [coexistence] and the relationship between the two sects is good.
But what was happening is that there was a government, of course, its members claimed that they were Sunnis when they were not. The then-government was a dictatorship that would follow a policy of sectarian persecution and national persecution.
Some of these fears may be unfounded, but they are, nevertheless, real. We have spoken with many people who fear civil war. We have spoken to Sunnis that have almost racist attitudes towards Shia. In the south, as you know, some Baathists have been murdered by Shia. You cannot underestimate the potential for civil strife, civil unrest. Don't you share some of those concerns?
In fact, we have warned against the sectarian division and fears of [civil war]. But the enemies of Iraq and the sympathizers of the ex-regime are working, are doing their best to [place] their bets that there's going to be a civil war, a sectarian war among the Iraqi people. Today the enemies of the Iraqi people are trying hard to bring about civil war.
But we have been working hard, and we will continue to prevent such a war in the future, because [of] the need for unity among the Iraqi people. As regards [to] the killing of Baathists by Shiites, I don't think this has anything to do with the Shiites or the different sects. Because a Shiite or a Sunni, a Kurd could be killed by this one, by this man or that man. Of course not all the Sunnis are the Baathists, and not all the criminals--
But there are also differences, severe differences within the Shia community. For instance, what constituency does Moqtada Sadr represent?
There are no great differences or severe differences as you said, because everybody believes in the need to end the occupation and to establish a national government and elected national government -- that there should be a permanent constitution for the country, and that law and order should be back to Iraq. We all believe in those principles. There could be some differences in the viewpoints that we adopt concerning certain details. But generally, there's no bitter divisions in this regard. As I told you, there is no general difference in the points of view that we adopt.
I ask again, what does Moqtada Sadr represent? Who are his followers?
His followers are those who followed his father before him. Of course, those are part of the Iraqi people.
You're reluctant to criticize him. But it's clear that, between him and you, between him and Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, there are great differences.
To have different points of view is something, and to have clashes is something else, because any party members could have differences. You have to differentiate here between the bitter clashes or bitter divisions, and to hav[ing] different points of view, because the bitter clashes could lead to collision and to separation.
So you describe basically collegial differences between you and Moqtada Sadr? Minor collegial differences?
Well, let's not use different terms or different terminology. And to use clashes -- the points of view. Let's be away from this.
He makes no effort to use calm rhetoric; he's quite inflammatory. He's called for the establishment of an Islamic guerilla army. Many people -- commentators, observers -- believe that you and Sistani have been very cautious in criticizing him, because he does represent a significant angry constituency within the Shia community.
This is the wrong conclusion.
One of the fears that Ambassador Bremer and this U.S. administration have is the establishment of an Islamic government in Iraq. What is the nature of the Islamic government you are calling for?
I think this is a question to be asked to Ambassador Bremer.
As regards [to] the government that we want, we don't want an Islamic government. We want a constitutional government that preserves the rights of everybody and a government that believes in the public rights; a government that works for the interest of the Iraqi people, and believes that the people are the source to derive all the important decisions that concern the future of the Iraqi people.
You have, though, called for a government that holds Islam supreme, where Islam would be the guiding force behind the government, without real separation of church and state. Am I incorrect?
The conference in London was attended by all the sects of the Iraqi people including the Shiites and the Kurds, and the Sunnis, and the secular people. They all agree that the major religion of the state should be Islam. But to respect Islam is one thing, and to establish an Islamic government is something else.
You have your own army, the Badr Brigades. How large a force are they, and what role will they play in the future of Iraq?
The Badr Brigade is no more an army, because it has turned [from] an army into an organization. Before, the major task of this brigade was to eliminate or to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein. But now that the government, the ex-regime, is no more in place, the Badr Brigade has been turned into an organization that is entrusted with keeping law and order and--
Yes. As regards [to] the actual number of the Badr Brigade, I don't know that, because there are members and there are supporters. There was a grand parade for the army or the brigade...where 100,000 fighters paraded. That number does not represent all the number. ...
Why did you oppose the American election plan?
We didn't oppose this plan. In fact, we [want] the elections to take place.
You opposed the plan that was proposed by the CPA to have caucuses in the 18 provinces, and instead called for direct elections. Why?
We have called for the election. To have elections and caucuses is something good. It's good to have each [group] have its own constituents, and its own electors, or candidates. We all agree that we should respect the opinion of our people, what people want.
Of course, we invited people to participate in this process. Then we should have a very firm basis on any of the future government that's going to be elected. This government would be properly defended and would be [controlled] by the people. ... This is the true democracy, the true meaning of democracy. We expect the Americans to deliver. The voice of the people is the foundation of the future of Iraq.
I want to ask a question about the bombing that took place before Ramadan, in which your brother was killed. Who do you believe had a motive to murder your brother?
I believe that they were the enemies of the Iraqi people, including the followers of the ex-regime or the sympathizers of the ex-regime, and the radicals or the hard-liners who are aligned with them. All the proof or the evidence show that it was them who did this crime. But investigations are still underway, and we are waiting for the [results].
Why does Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani refuse to speak to any American representatives?
There are certain traditions that should be obeyed, and I think that is why he's reluctant to [meet].
Commentary: Interview: Abdel Aziz al-Hakim
Q: You said yesterday (Tuesday) that the U.S. forces should leave (Iraq) and you will pursue resistance until this time. Do you mean that you support the attacks against the U.S. occupation forces?
A: All Iraqis and all other people do not accept occupation and therefore the occupation forces should leave as soon as possible. We should work on ending the occupation and this is what we believed in the past and still believe. I will continue to work for ending the occupation but we don't believe that armed confrontation is the correct kind (of resistance) because it would lead to more problems and might be a reason for keeping the occupation a longer time.