IRAQ: Shiite political party seeks new talent, says don’t be shy

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Today, Shiite cleric Sheik Jalaluddin Saghir, a senior member of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, or SIIC, gave a telling glimpse of his political party’s internal thinking, with national elections on the horizon.

SIIC, has had a rough year. In August, the party’s leader, Abdelaziz Hakim, passed away and was succeeded by his 38-year-old son, Ammar Hakim. The death came after the party’s trouncing in provincial elections last January. Rumors abounded about internal divisions over the young Hakim’s succession. The movement has also watched as Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, once thought of as weak, has emerged as the most influential player in Iraq’s political arena. No longer beholden to SIIC, Maliki has opted not to join his old partners but instead to assemble his own list for the national elections, scheduled for January.

Forsaken by Maliki, SIIC has carried on with its own slate, called the Iraqi National Alliance, made up mostly of Shiite religious parties. It has ambitions to outdo Maliki at his own game by presenting itself as the true defenders of nationalism and good governance.
In his Friday afternoon prayer sermon, Saghir unveiled his party’s election playbook. The cleric critiqued the government’s management of electricity and vowed his list would improve basic services. He heaped scorn on the country’s current electricity minister, Kareem Wahab, for failing to improve power.

“Every time he makes promises, the supply gets worse,” Saghir said.
“Why blame [our list] about these bad services? Did we bomb the bridges? …The executives should be held accountable for their derelictions.”


Saghir appeared eager to cast aside any negative associations with his party, accumulated after years in power. “If you find yourself talented, introduce yourself to us. We like to meet people and listen to them. Give us your ideas; don’t be shy. We want to listen to you. We want changes. A majority in [our list] will not be from SIIC, but the new talented faces and elements, and this is in our agenda,” Saghir said.

“When SIIC nominated Sayid Ammar to head our organization, he was the youngest among the other leaders in SIIC, who were older and [also] fit to lead. No one objected and we all agreed upon this nomination. It took us only 15 minutes and we were proud of this.

“Therefore, I like to say to all those who are capable and want to help us salvage the situation, let them come to us. There are many officials having fake college degrees. All will be removed. So we need new faces. So come to us and introduce yourselves to us.”

-- Caesar Ahmed and Ned Parker in Baghdad