Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

Ayatollah's death deepens U.S. woes

Expand Messages
  • ummyakoub
    Cleric s death deepens U.S. woes Spiritual, political figure backed transition effort Mohammed Bakir Hakim, center, pushes through the main entrance to the
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 1, 2003
      Cleric's death deepens U.S. woes

      Spiritual, political figure backed transition effort
      Mohammed Bakir Hakim, center, pushes through the main entrance to the
      Holy Shrine of Imam Ali as he arrives in Najaf on May 12, after a 23-
      year exile in Iran.

      By Anthony Shadid

      NAJAF, Iraq, Aug. 29 — The death of Ayatollah Mohammed Bakir Hakim,
      a rare cleric with political acumen and religious pedigree, may pose
      the greatest challenge yet to U.S. efforts to court Iraq's Shiite
      Muslim majority and bring stability to Iraq.

      HAKIM, 64, A member of one of Iraq's most prominent clerical
      families, headed the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in
      Iraq (SCIRI), an opposition group he founded in 1982 while exiled in
      Though his ties to the Islamic government in Iran long made
      him suspect in the eyes of U.S. officials, his decision to enroll his
      movement in the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council and, by
      default, act as a proponent of U.S. efforts here, counted as one of
      the true achievements of American diplomacy in postwar Iraq.
      His death in today's car bombing at the Imam Ali shrine
      removes his credibility and prestige from SCIRI, which is already
      locked in a growing rivalry with younger, more militant clerics
      seeking to give voice to Iraqis' growing frustration with the
      Without him, U.S. officials lose perhaps their most important
      interlocutor with the Shiite community at a time the Americans
      acknowledge is, at best, delicate.

      "There's no political replacement for him," Sheik Hamid Ali
      Jaff, a 33-year-old cleric, said as he wandered through the
      devastation left by the attack. "We'll have to wait many years for
      another replacement."
      U.S. officials have acknowledged the key role that Shiites
      will play in any postwar arrangement.
      Shiites suffered some of the worst brutality meted out by
      President Saddam Hussein, with tens of thousands executed and exiled
      in a repression that was especially pronounced after their failed
      uprising after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. In contrast to Sunni
      Muslims, the community that provided Hussein much of his support,
      Shiites jubilantly welcomed his fall, even as some remained
      suspicious of U.S. intentions.

      In the crucial battles ahead over a new constitution and a
      postwar government, their support is essential, and U.S. officials
      have described the prospect of turmoil and infighting within Shiite
      ranks as a nightmare scenario.
      As evidenced by the outpouring of sentiment in Najaf, Baghdad
      and other cities, Hakim's death will, in the short run, probably
      conceal divisions among Shiite factions.
      In a statement tonight, Moqtada Sadr, his chief rival and a
      virulent opponent of the occupation, called for a three-day strike to
      protest Hakim's death and a week of mourning to mark his passing. In
      Sadr City, a sprawling Baghdad neighborhood where Hakim's support was
      limited, thousands poured into the streets to demonstrate their
      "Saddam is the enemy of God," they shouted.
      But in the long term, those divisions seem likely to be
      exacerbated, given tension already evident in recent months in
      politics that, even to insiders, remain Byzantine and are marked by
      shifting allegiances.

      In the days after Hussein's fall, an angry mob murdered
      Abdel-Majid Khoei, a well-known cleric who was flown into Najaf by
      the United States from exile in London. In the West, he was seen as
      moderate, and his stated mission was to unify Shiite ranks.
      Hakim, too, had emerged as a flexible figure. In 23 years of
      exile, he advocated an Islamic state, reflecting the position of the
      Iranian government that sheltered him and sanctioned the creation of
      his military wing, known as the Badr Brigades.
      On his return in May, his public statements softened. He still
      criticized the occupation, but he spoke less of an Islamic state. In
      his Friday sermons at the Imam Ali shrine, his message focused more
      on Islamic unity and less on the shortcomings of the U.S.-led
      His replacement will likely be his brother, Abdel-Aziz Hakim,
      who already holds a seat on the 25-member Governing Council. Abdel-
      Aziz Hakim headed the Badr Brigades but lacked his brother's
      connections with more senior clergy and his reputation as an opponent
      of Hussein.
      In the political arena, that leaves Sadr with perhaps the
      greatest popular voice. A son of another prominent cleric, Sadr, 30,
      has used his sermons at the mosque in Kufa, just a few miles from
      Najaf, to deliver a message of empowerment for the Shiite poor and
      disenfranchised, and his street support overshadowed Hakim's.
      As a rallying cry, he has denounced the U.S. occupation and
      proclaimed the formation of the Mahdi Army, so far an unarmed group
      that seems more akin to a morals police force than a militia.
      While both Hakim and Sadr were overshadowed in spiritual
      matters by Iraq's most senior clerics, men like Grand Ayatollah Ali
      Sistani, those clerics have eschewed a political role, deeming it
      beneath their spiritual calling.
      They have tacitly supported U.S. efforts, mainly by remaining
      silent, but would be loath to play a more assertive role. Despite
      U.S. pressure, they have resisted taking a more aggressive line
      against Sadr, fearful of the strife such a confrontation might
      Despite Sadr's denials, many in Najaf blamed him for Khoei's
      killing and for an assassination attempt last week on another grand
      ayatollah, Mohammed Saeed Hakim, the slain cleric's uncle. He escaped
      with only scratches to his neck.

      But in the streets around the shrine, where charred carcasses
      of cars lay in pools mixed with blackened debris and blood, many
      insisted that only loyalists of Hussein could carry out such carnage.
      No Shiite, they said, would intentionally damage the gold-domed
      shrine of Imam Ali, the son-in-law of the prophet Muhammad and the
      man Shiites consider his heir.
      If the car bomb was planted by Hussein loyalists, it shows a
      telling recognition of the weaknesses of the U.S. occupation, which
      to many here seems increasingly isolated.
      The bombing of the Jordanian Embassy on Aug. 7 sent a chill
      through Arab capitals still debating whether to engage the Governing
      Council, which is struggling for credibility among its own people.

      The devastation of the U.N. headquarters drove the World Bank,
      International Monetary Fund and some humanitarian groups out of the
      country. Judging by the reaction in the streets of Najaf tonight, few
      believe the consequences of today's carnage will be any less far-
      The attacks come at a time that U.S. officials are struggling
      on multiple fronts in their efforts to bring order to a country beset
      by crime, anger and frustration.
      A simmering guerrilla war against U.S. forces in Sunni Muslim
      areas — marked by increasingly sophisticated attacks — shows little
      sign of abating. Last week, ethnic strife flared in northern Iraq
      between Kurds and Turkomens, a dispute that U.S. forces seemed ill-
      prepared to resolve. While still sporadic, attacks have increased
      against British troops patrolling southern Iraq, a Shiite-dominated
      region that until recent weeks was notable for its calm but which has
      grown restive because of a continued lack of basic services.
      In the latest incident there, a bomb was set off today near
      the British base in Basra. There were no casualties.

      © 2003 The Washington Post Company




      To subscribe to this group, send an email to:

    Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.