IRAQ: Faithful lay to rest Shiite political leader Abdelaziz Hakim
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Thousands of Iraqis gathered Saturday for the funeral of Shiite leader Abdelaziz Hakim in the shrine city of Najaf in what amounted to a passing of the torch to his son and successor, Ammar Hakim.
The mourners carried pictures of Hakim and his son with banners that read: “Allegiance to Sayyed Ammar just like he announced his allegiance to Sayed [Grand Ayatollah Ali] Sistani.”
Abdelaziz Hakim, who died Wednesday of lung cancer in Iran, leaves his party, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, in a weakened state. The party was trounced in provincial elections in January, and has watched as Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and his party have eclipsed SIIC in popularity, with successes on the security front. Maliki was chosen for his post in 2006 largely because he was seen as someone who posed no threat to rival parties.
Hakim, carried in a plain wooden coffin, was buried in a public square next to his late brother Ayatollah Mohammed Baqr Hakim, whom he had succeeded as leader of the Council in 2003 after his sibling’s assassination in a deadly car bombing.
At the public ceremony, Hussein Hakim, a member of an affiliated charitable group, the Mihrab Matryr Foundation, read passages from Hakim’s will, anointing Ammar Hakim, 38, as the Supreme Council’s new chief.
“I have bestowed the struggler Ammar Al-Hakim to be my [successor] after my death,” Hussein Hakim said, quoting from Abdelaziz Hakim’s will.
“Coming from my personal detailed knowledge of him, he [Ammar] is trusted and he has the experience and capability to continue the path, take full responsibility and continue the path of struggle. He is keen to serve Iraq, paying attention to the Iraqi people and not forgetting the grave sacrifices made.”
It remains to be seen whether SIIC’s other luminaries will rally around the bespectacled, youthful successor to Abdelaziz, or whether the organization, at a low point after January’s electoral defeat, will be roiled by tensions.
Addressing mourners, Ammar Hakim sought to present himself as a worthy inheritor of his father’s post and evoked January’s national elections, which could make or break his party’s political future.
“After toppling Saddam’s regime, the mass graves, the killings for more than three centuries, we accomplished victory ,where we can choose our ruler,” Hakim said to the mourners. “This is a blessing from God which we must protect and defend. The process of elections in the provincial counsel and the parliament must be taken seriously and all should participate; also protect your constitution, keep Iraqi united.”
— Times correspondents Saad Fakhrildeen in Najaf and Caesar Ahmed in Baghdad