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Leader's Death is Major Blow for Iraq's Largest Shiite Party at a Crucial Time

Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, 59, head of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, had been battling lung cancer. He was known for his consensus-building skills.
Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, 59, head of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, had been battling lung cancer. He was known for his consensus-building skills. (By Hasan Sarbakhshian -- Associated Press)
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Hakim's passing is likely to shape Maliki's thinking as the prime minister decides whether to join the new Shiite alliance or form a coalition with Sunnis and possibly Kurds.

Leaders of the new Shiite coalition, which includes most of the parties that selected Maliki as prime minister in 2006, declined to guarantee that he would keep his job if he agreed to join the alliance. The coalition was announced Monday.

Though widely expected, Hakim's death deprives the coalition of a revered theologian known for his shrewd political and consensus-building skills.

"The key question remains whether Nouri al-Maliki will join the new alliance or not," said Reidar Visser, an Iraq expert at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs. "Some will say there is a little more room for Maliki now that Hakim is gone, but in practice that has been the case for a while, and other considerations are likely to govern Maliki's choice of alliances -- in particular the question of whether he can succeed in building powerful alliances on his own."

Hakim's family emerged as one of the top threats to Hussein's regime during the 1970s. Hakim was imprisoned after a 1977 Shiite uprising and fled to Iran three years later. He was among the founders of the Supreme Council in 1982. Hakim led the party's militia, the Badr Organization, which many years later became one of the building blocks of Iraq's new army and police forces.

The Supreme Council did poorly in January's provincial elections and appears to have all but abandoned a project to create a semiautonomous region in southern Iraq.

Hakim had battled lung cancer for years. He was treated in Houston in May 2007 and later underwent chemotherapy in Tehran.

Special correspondents Saad Sarhan in Najaf and K.I. Ibrahim in Baghdad contributed to this report.


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