Iraqi Shia leader dies of cancer in Iran

August 26th, 2009 - 9:46 pm ICT by IANS  

Baghdad/Tehran, Aug 26 (DPA) Abdulaziz al-Hakim, the leader of one of Iraq’s most powerful Shia political groups, died at a Tehran hospital Wednesday after a battle with cancer, Iranian media reported.
The head of the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council died shortly after the party’s television station al-Furat announced that al-Hakim was in critical condition in Iran where he has been receiving treatment from lung cancer for the past four months.

“We offer our condolences to the Iraqi people and the Islamic nation for the death of Abdulaziz al-Hakim who was an elder brother and a strong pillar during our fight against the former regime and during the reconstruction of the new Iraq,” Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said in a statement.

Al-Hakim has been the head of the council since the assassination of his elder brother Mohamed Baqer al-Hakim in an explosion in the southern Iraqi holy city of Najaf in 2003.

His family suffered particularly in Iraq’s long political struggle, and lost six brothers to assassinations ordered by Saddam Hussein. Having been imprisoned three times for insurgency activities under Saddam, al-Hakim went into exile in Iran in 1980.

The Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, which was founded in the early 1980s with the help of Iran, is a powerful party that has long formed the backbone of the dominant Shia United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), Iraq’s ruling Shia coalition of over 20 groups.

The council, the largest party in the national parliament, maintains good relations with Washington. Al-Hakim was a member of the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council after the US-led invasion in 2003. Due to his clerical status, he does not hold a post in the Iraqi government.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani issued a statement mourning al-Hakim describing him as “a brother, friend and… a hero fighting dictatorship, courageous in challenging it and a wise man in building new Iraq.”

A few days before his death, al-Hakim, who graduated from the renowned Hawza Shia theological school in Najaf, succeeded in forming the Iraqi National Alliance, a new Shia alliance that replaced the dispute-riven UIA, in preparation for January’s general election.

The announcement on Monday came after three months of intensive discussions and meetings among Shia political powers led by al-Hakim.

“Al-Hakim was the basis for communication between the political powers and an element to ease the tensions,” Iraqi lawmaker Salim al-Jabouri said, mourning al-Hakim.

“We call on everyone to unite and come together … because Iraq is one family and what affects one member of this family, affects the rest,” added al-Jabouri.

Al-Hakim, a habitual heavy-smoker, was first diagnosed with lung cancer in May 2007 at a Texas hospital. He was hospitalized in Tehran and then returned to Baghdad in the following October.

His son Mohsen al-Hakim told reporters that the family did not want any press coverage and wanted to mourn without any public attention.

However, it is expected that the Iranian government will hold a mourning ceremony for Hakim in the Tehran University Thursday, as he lived for around 20 years in Iran before returning to Iraq in 2003. The body will then be transferred to Najaf city, which is 180 km south of Baghdad.

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