|Another Shi'ite leader now in the
By Charles Recknagel
PRAGUE - The return of Grand Ayatollah Muhammad
Baqir al-Hakim further complicates the Iraqi political
scene, just as Washington prepares to form the nucleus
of an interim domestic leadership next month.
The 63-year-old Hakim returned to Iraq over the
weekend after more than two decades of exile in
neighboring Iran. There he formed a movement advocating
theocratic rule for Iraq and conducted a low-level,
cross-border guerrilla war against the regime of Saddam
Hussein. His movement, the Supreme Assembly for the
Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SAIRI), was directly
supported with funds by Tehran and with arms by Iran's
elite Revolutionary Guard.
As he crossed the
border and drove to Basra on May 10, the returning
ayatollah was greeted by thousands of supporters. In
Basra up to 100,000 people packed a stadium to listen to
him address Iraqis in Iraq for the first time in 23
years. In a speech interrupted several times by
chanting, he thanked Iran for its support and rejected
any US efforts to name a government for Iraq.
Hakim told the crowd, "This government must be
chosen by Iraqis and totally independent. We will not
accept a government that is imposed upon us." Later, at
a smaller rally in Nasiriya, he also portrayed the
US-British occupation of the country as a danger to
"Do the Americans accept it
if the English govern their country, even though they
share a similar culture? How can we accept a foreign
government whose language is different from ours, whose
skin is different from ours? Oh brothers, we will fight
and fight so that the government we have is independent,
that it is Iraqi," he said.
Later, Hakim arrived
in Najaf, where he was again greeted by hundreds of
thousands of supporters. Najaf is the center of the
Iraqi Shi'ite religious leadership.
ayatollah had been the only main Iraqi exile figure
still outside the country, and his return coincides with
imminent US efforts to start some form of power-sharing
arrangement with Iraqi leaders. Washington has said it
hopes to form a nucleus for domestic leadership in June.
The powers of the domestic interim leadership - which is
to comprise exile groups including SAIRI, the two main
Kurdish factions and Iraqis who did not leave the
country - have yet to be detailed.
Jabbar, a sociologist at the University of London, said
Hakim will likely start by cooperating with any new
US-created administration, despite his public rejection
of US efforts to "impose" a government. The SAIRI has
said in recent months that it is willing to work
initially within a national parliamentary system.
But Jabbar said the returning ayatollah remains
committed to his original goals of having an Islamic
state in Iraq, something Washington has ruled out. He
said this means any concessions by Hakim in cooperating
with US officials now are only a short-term strategic
move to gain time to build his own power base.
"He has been dreaming for 23 years or so that he
would have [an Iranian Islamic revolutionary leader
Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khomeini-type of return with
millions greeting him and obeying his instructions and
taking to the streets to establish an Islamic state. But
of course he is facing formidable rivals now," Jabbar
Jabbar said one of al-Hakim's first moves
will be to decide whether he can best build his
influence among the Shi'ites by casting himself as a
political leader or as a religious one. A top SAIRI
spokesman, Hakim's nephew Mohsen, told Reuters early
this month that the ayatollah might quit as the group's
head in order to be above the political fray.
Leaving SAIRI would put Hakim in the position of
an independent cleric issuing fatwas, or
religious rulings, on political issues such as US-Iraqi
relations. The ayatollah is considered likely to be
succeeded in the party leadership by his younger brother
Abdel-Aziz, who is now his deputy.
Jabbar said that whatever Hakim's choice, he is likely
to continue playing the same role he did since leaving
Iraq 23 years ago after being tortured by Saddam's
regime for political activism. The analyst said that, in
exile, Hakim has been a tireless voice propounding
theocracy and decrying democracy and that there is no
reason to expect his message to change.
been for such a long time under the Iranian [Islamic
revolution's] influence. Secondly, he has not written a
single word in the documents of SAIRI that [indicates]
he envisages a democratic system. And three, to the best
of my knowledge, he considers democracy, nationalism,
and patriotism as artifacts of pre-Islamic concepts that
are inadmissible," Jabbar said.
Hakim is now
expected to take up residence in Najaf and immediately
start a newspaper to voice his opinions. His presence in
the holy city is likely to raise tensions there as he
becomes the third man in a triangle of clerics currently
competing for dominance among Iraq's Shi'ite majority.
One of his rivals is Moqtadah al-Sadr, who also
regards Iran's theocracy as a model for Iraq but who
says leadership belongs to those who never left the
country. Sadr is the son of the highly respected Grand
Ayatollah Muhammad al-Sadr, who was assassinated by
presumed Saddam agents in 1999.
rival is Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who is believed
to favor keeping the Iraqi Shi'ite clergy out of
The potential for violence over
tensions within the Shi'ite leadership was amply
demonstrated by the recent murder of Shaykh Abd al-Majid
al-Khoi, another prominent cleric. Khoi, who was
pro-American, was assassinated shortly after he returned
to Najaf from exile in London last month.
Copyright (c) 2002, RFE/RL Inc. Reprinted
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