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Shiite Urges U.S. to Give Iraqis Leeway In Rebel Fight

Abdul Aziz Hakim, a Shiite cleric and leader of Iraq's most powerful political party, said the United States is tying Iraq's hands in the fight against rebels.
Abdul Aziz Hakim, a Shiite cleric and leader of Iraq's most powerful political party, said the United States is tying Iraq's hands in the fight against rebels. (By Ellen Knickmeyer -- The Washington Post)

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In Iraq, "there are plans to confront terrorists, approved by security agencies, but the Americans reject that," Hakim said. "Because of that mistaken policy, we have lost a lot. One of the victims was my brother Mohammad Bakir, because of American policies."

"For instance, the ministries of Interior and Defense want to carry out some operations to clean out some areas" in Baghdad and around the country, including volatile Anbar province, in the west, he said.

"There were plans that should have been implemented months ago, but American officials and forces rejected them," he said. "This has led to the expansion of terrorism.

"We have a capacity to move more quickly than currently," he said.

The issue points to a key difference between U.S. officials and some of Iraq's conservative Shiite leaders about what it will take to end the insurgency. Even the top U.S. generals say the ultimate solution is a political one, bringing minority Sunnis into a democracy that without them stands to be dominated permanently by the Shiite majority. But the leaders of many Shiite religious parties, reflecting their years in exile and their bitterness over the killing of relatives and supporters during Hussein's dictatorship, say the endgame is a military one.

Hakim charged that the United States, evidently fearful of alienating Sunnis, was blocking the arrests of Sunni political leaders who had ties to insurgents. "The mixing of security and political issues" was just another U.S. mistake, he said. "Terrorists should know there would be no dealing with them."

Indeed, some former members of Hussein's Baath Party who initially took up arms against U.S. forces and the new Iraqi government have said they have abandoned the insurgency and sought a political role largely because of the effectiveness of what they alleged to be Shiite death squads rounding up and executing Sunni men since the Shiite-led government took office last spring.

Hakim said "the problem is not with the Sunnis, it is with the terrorists. There are Sunnis who have strong ties with us, who speak frankly and in pain, asking for help in getting rid of the terrorists."

Yet suspicion of the Badr forces runs strong among Iraqis, especially since the discovery by the U.S. military this month of a secret prison in central Baghdad containing what Interior Minister Bayan Jabar, a Shiite, acknowledged were at least five to seven detainees who had been subjected to torture.

Hakim said charges of torture have long been drummed up by Hussein loyalists, and he asserted that the U.S. military is often present in Interior Ministry facilities. American troops, he said, had been in the building where the prison was discovered "four times a week."

"These are all baseless allegations," he said. "We say, bring us one single piece of evidence to prove these allegations."

Hakim also made clear he wanted leaders elected in December to move forward toward creation of a massive federal region in the Shiite south, an idea he first broached in August before thousands of supporters in a ceremony in the Shiite holy city of Najaf marking the second anniversary of his brother's assassination.

Some Americans and Iraqis have charged such a state would put much of Iraq, and its oil, under a Shiite-controlled theocracy heavily influenced by Iran. But Hakim noted that the Kurdish-populated north already has such a region, and he contended that Baghdad, with its mixed population, and the heavily Sunni west should form separate regions as well.

The draft constitution voted in this year "approved that Iraq should become regions," he said. "While we want to form a region in the south, we strive to maintain the unity of Iraq."

Hakim said the United States could find "many areas" of agreement with Iran on Iraq, if it wanted to. For example, he said, "from the Iranian point of view, it is in the Iranian interest that Iraq be stable. That is also supposed to be the American intent."

Hakim made clear his own role would remain at the national level, rather than limited to any new Shiite region. Asked twice if he would seek political office directly, he said both times that he seeks only to be a servant of all Iraqis and showed one of his few, small smiles of the night.

Asked how different Iraq would look five years from now, Hakim said the answer depended on the actions of the United States. "For sure, the policies of America will have great influence on whether security and reconstruction are present," he said.


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