On Wednesday (August 26), al-Sayyid 'Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, head of one of Iraq's largest and most powerful Shi'i political parties, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), died in Tehran, Iran, where he was being treated medically, after a lengthy battle with lung cancer. At the time of his death, the visible physical toll that the illness had caused him was stark.
Watch Reuters video of the mourning for al-Hakim.
His chief aid and expected successor as SIIC chief is his son, Sayyid 'Ammar al-Hakim. 'Abd al-'Aziz's funeral procession was attended by thousands of Iraqis and he will be buried next to his brother, Ayatullah Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, who was assassinated in August 2003 in a massive vehicle bombing, in the Shi'i shrine city of al-Najaf in southern Iraq. Despite his illness, 'Abd al-'Aziz continued to play an influential role in his country's politics, says Iraq expert Reidar Visser, and he remained a key ally of the ruling regime in neighboring Iran. The SIIC, originally named the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, was founded in November 1982 in Tehran by Iraqi exiles, under the al-Hakim brothers, with the blessing and key support of Grand Ayatullah Sayyid Ruhollah Khumayni.
A biographical sketch of the recently deceased SIIC leader is below:
'Abd al-'Aziz was born in the southern Iraqi city of al-Najaf who is sayyid, a descendant from the Prophet Muhammad and first Shi‘i Imam, ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib. He is a hujjat al-Islam (literally “proof of Islam”) and the current leader of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (hereafter SIIC), one of the two largest Iraqi Shi‘i political parties, a position he inherited upon the assassination of his brother, Ayatollah Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim (1940 or 1944-2003), who was assassinated by a massive car bomb in al-Najaf in August 2003. Abd al-Aziz’s father was Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Muhsin al-Hakim (1889-1970), the preeminent Shi‘i religious scholar and authority in
Abd al-Aziz’s earliest social and political activism occurred in tandem with his father and older brothers, all of whom were actively opposed to the growing influence of the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) among segments of Shi‘i youth during the 1950s and 1960s. Grand Ayatollah al-Hakim was an outspoken critic of communism and he passed a juridical opinion (fatwa) against membership in the ICP in February 1960. He was also instrumental in the formation and support of the Jama‘at al-‘Ulama (“Society of Religious Scholars”), a coalition of religious scholars (‘ulama) opposed to the growing influence of the ICP and other Iraqi secular political parties. Due to his age, Abd al-Aziz was probably not actively involved in the Jama‘at al-‘Ulama and the Islamic Da‘wa Party (Hizb al-Da‘wa Islamiyya), though his brothers were.
Following the Iraqi invasion of Iran in September 1980 and the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), Abd al-Aziz and his brother, Muhammad Baqir, left Iraq for Iran, along with thousands of other Iraqi Shi‘is, many of them political activists. The ruling Iraqi Ba‘th Party had begun to crack down severely against Shi‘i political activists and other regime opponents, fearing an Iranian-style revolution led by
Al-Hakim meets at the White House with former U.S. president George W. Bush.
In November 1982, Baqir al-Hakim announced the formation of the SIIC, then known as the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in
Abd al-Aziz and Muhammad Baqir returned to
Ayatullah Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim
During Abd al-Aziz’s tenure as party chief, the SIIC achieved a key electoral victory in December 2005 as part of the United Iraqi Alliance, a loose coalition of primarily Shi‘i political parties, which, together with the Kurdish political list, dominates Iraqi politics today. In the past, he has supported attempts to create a decentralized federal system, creating an autonomous Shi‘i region in southern Iraq, a move which has been repeatedly blocked by Sunni Arab politicians and Tayyar al-Sadr (Sadr Movement), the socio-political faction led by Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr. Badr officials and fighters have infiltrated the Iraqi state security forces and relevant ministries, including the Ministry of Interior. They are blamed for summarily arresting, kidnapping, torturing, and murdering Sunni Arabs, often political rivals and random civilians off of the streets, particularly in mixed Sunni-Shi‘i neighborhoods, which they seek to cleanse of Sunni Arabs. The SIIC leadership denies involvement in such attacks, despite strong evidence to the contrary. Beginning in 2004 and reaching its apogee in the spring of 2008, Badr fighters, many of them while in their capacity as Iraqi state security, have engaged in running street battles with the Sadrists over political power, reportedly seeking to weaken them before municipal elections which are tentatively scheduled for 2009. Heavy fighting under the guise of the official Iraqi state, backed by the pro-SIIC prime minister Nuri al-Maliki and the U.S. military, took place between SIIC-dominated Iraqi security forces and Sadrist fighters in Basra during the spring and early summer of 2008.
Al-Hakim meets in Tehran with Iranian supreme leader Sayyid 'Ali Khamenei
Abd al-Aziz is aided by his two sons, Muhsin (1974-) and ‘Ammar (1972-), who both head various offices and departments within the SIIC. ‘Ammar is the secretary general of the al-Mihrab Martyr Foundation, an SIIC affiliate organization which has built mosques, Islamic centers, and schools throughout southern
Sayyid 'Ammar al-Hakim