Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim: The Interview
Reporting on a wide-ranging question and answer session with Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, the head of SCIRI, the Arabic-language newspaper Al-Quds al-Arabi (“With Regard to the Reconciliation Plan Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim Supports Amnesty for Those Who Killed Americans: No Retreat on Federalism… The Sunnis Should Form Their Own Region”) quotes from the Shia leader on his views on issues including the scope of the new amnesty initiative, the controversial federal system included in Iraq’s constitution, and the Shia militias. (The article cites the interviewer as having been with Agence France-Presse, but AFP has not yet published the interview on the web, if at all).
SCIRI (Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq) is the party which holds the leadership of the United Iraqi Alliance, the ruling party in Iraq’s current government, making Hakim clearly the most important Iraqi political figure who does not hold official office. He is the last of nine brothers; seven died under Saddam Hussein’s rule, and the eighth was murdered in a car bombing in late 2003.
These were his comments:
On the American role:
Last year Hakim’s primary criticism of American forces was that they weren’t aggressive enough in going after Sunni insurgents, while here he “criticized the intervention of foreign forces in the security situation, seeing that they followed policies which made the situation worse or made mistakes…” From the context, I take this to mean the manner of intervention rather than intervention per se, although to the extent that U.S. forces may have restrained Hakim’s hawkish approach, this may be reflected in these comments. He specifically says that ‘foreign forces’ (he never refers to ‘American forces’) should give Iraqis “more opportunities” to deal with security. In this interview he also criticized the U.S. for using tanks and other heavy machinery in cities.
On American withdrawal:
Hakim responded to a question regarding insurgent demands that U.S. forces withdraw by saying that he was in favor of the withdrawal of foreign forces and Iraqi self-dependence, “but this subject must be decided within the government.” In other words, the insurgents don’t get a say.
Hakim said that the amnesty must be inclusive of those who have killed Americans, but responding to a question as to whom among the insurgents could dialogue with the government, said “I don’t know. I am not aware of any of the armed groups which have not perpetrated crimes against the Iraqi people, and so if there is a ‘resistance’ as some call it, let it make itself known.”
Hakim firmly rejected backing down on the demand for regional governments, something which some have argued would lead to the break-up of Iraq, and simply said that “it is upon the Sunnis to form their own regional government.” He argued that this would further the fight against terrorism in the country.
On the Shia militias:
Hakim said that there were 140,000 security personnel spread across 33 groups in the various ministries charged with protecting the various establishments, and that these along with the Shia militias should be folded into the Ministry of Defense. He also argued that if former Baathists could be brought back into the military, then Shia militiamen who had resisted Saddam’s regime ought to be eligible as well.
Of the four factions within the UIA (the others are Dawa, Fadhila and the Sadriya), SCIRI most closely follows the leadership of the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and his vision of consensual rule through the ballot box. Despite his ties to Iran - SCIRI took refuge there under Saddam - Hakim is not reflexively anti-American, but he has at times been harshly critical of American actions, beginning with Paul Bremer’s attempt back in 2003 to postpone elections. In 2004 he specifically asked President Bush to extend the stay of U.S. troops in Iraq, and, as noted above, in 2005 he pushed a more aggressive approach to fighting the insurgents.