Secretive Iraqi Cleric Launches Campaign

Secretive Iraqi Cleric Launches Campaign
December 5th, 2005  
Team Infidel

Topic: Secretive Iraqi Cleric Launches Campaign

Secretive Iraqi Cleric Launches Campaign
By HAMZA HENDAWI and QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA - Associated Press Writer
BAGHDAD, Iraq - (AP) Iraq's most powerful politician, a secretive
cleric who once led a militia based in Iran, launched the campaign Saturday
of a Shiite alliance set to win the biggest number of seats in this month's
parliamentary vote.
Two years after appearing on Iraq's murky political scene,
Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim remains difficult to read _ a soft-spoken man with a
reputation for ruthlessness and a preference for pulling strings behind the
Although a member of parliament, al-Hakim rarely attends sessions.
Still, there is little question that al-Hakim is the most influential figure
within the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance, which also includes Prime Minister
Ibrahim al-Jaafari.
Despite his time in Iran, al-Hakim, who is running again in the Dec.
15 elections, denies that he takes orders from Tehran.
"My aim is to serve and defend the people of Iraq," al-Hakim told
The Associated Press.
The ties between Iran and Iraq's Shiite political establishment
nonetheless present a problem for the United States, which relies on Shiite
support while remaining at odds with Iran.
Al-Hakim's power base is the Supreme Council of the Islamic
Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI, which is part of the alliance and which was
founded in Iran in 1982. His late older brother, Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim,
ran SCIRI, with the younger al-Hakim heading the military wing, the Badr
The brothers returned from Iran after the fall of Saddam Hussein and
the elder al-Hakim continued in the leadership role until he was killed in a
car bombing in Najaf in August 2003. The younger al-Hakim swiftly assumed
SCIRI's leadership, despite doubts that his clerical pedigree and political
skills were up to the job.
Two years later, al-Hakim, 55, shows little of the charisma or the
oratorical skills of his late brother. But he is credited with an important
achievement _ helping to formalize Shiite domination of postwar Iraq by
forging the alliance that swept to power in the January elections.
The alliance is expected to take the biggest number of seats on Dec.
In launching the alliance campaign Saturday, al-Hakim said the
country "needs those who are strong and honest." He appeared Saturday with a
group of candidates, including al-Jaafari, leader of the Dawa Party, and
senior politician Hussain al-Shahristani.
"We will be the nation's protectors and saviors," al-Hakim said.
Al-Hakim's coalition won a significant boost Saturday when aides to
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most revered Shiite leader, said the
cleric has signaled to followers that they should vote for the Shiite
If the alliance ends up the dominant faction in the new parliament,
al-Hakim will be closer to achieving his goal of becoming the effective
leader of all Shiite political groups.
Al-Hakim recently told Shiite tribal leaders that the December
election will be his last, but an SCIRI official said al-Hakim would not be
leaving the world of politics.
"He has no plans to be the spiritual leader of the Shiites or return
to the seminary in Najaf," senior party member Ridha Jawad Taqi said. "He
will continue to be involved in politics and become the leader of all
political Shiite groups as well as a national leader."
Al-Hakim studied at a Shiite seminary in Najaf until 1980, when he
fled to overwhelmingly Shiite Iran. The Iran ties, and charges that Badr
militiamen have been involved in violent attacks against Sunni Arabs, have
made al-Hakim a controversial figure.
In an interview with the AP, he blamed the killings of Sunni Arabs
on Saddam Hussein loyalists and Muslim extremists trying to push the country
into civil war.
"A total of 80,000 Iraqis have been killed since the fall of the
regime," said the bearded al-Hakim, wearing a black turban and robe. "Most
of them are Shiites."
Unlike secular-minded Shiite politicians like deputy Prime Minister
Ahmad Chalabi or former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, al-Hakim appears
suspicious of Washington, viewing the Americans as useful temporary partners
at best.
"We were the first to resist the American occupation when Iraq was
occupied and we are now at the forefront of those who want independence for
Iraq and ridding it of foreign presence," he said.
However, al-Hakim repeated President Bush's view that the withdrawal
of U.S. troops from Iraq is linked to the building of Iraqi security forces
so they can maintain security on their own.
"We will abide by that stand until Iraq becomes fully independent,"
he said Saturday.