As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Political Intrigue In Iraq

In addition to Ted Kennedy, another major death in the world of politics will have major repercussions. Only this one's in Iraq.

Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the head of Iraq's largest Shiite political party, died Wednesday, creating a leadership vacuum that could weaken the bloc ahead of the January parliamentary election.

Hakim, 59, died in Tehran, where he was being treated for lung cancer, his relatives and associates said.

Leaders of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq are expected to announce after Hakim's burial in Najaf this week that his son Ammar will become the new head of the party, Supreme Council officials said. However, Ammar al-Hakim, who is in his late 30s, is widely seen as too young and inexperienced to command all factions of the party, and could face a leadership challenge.

The White House offered a terse two-line condolence.

Before this happened, al-Hakim's Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and several other Shiite groups (including the Sadr movement) formed a new coalition for the January elections that excluded Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. This is a shocking development, considering how Maliki had been ruling Iraq and muscling out his Shiite competition, but the Shiite bloc must have felt safety in numbers. With al-Hakim's death, however, and one less credible figure atop the coalition, that faction could split, leading Maliki to be able to pull off a victory after all. However, he'd probably have to partner with Sunnis to do it, and the question becomes whether sectarian bonds will carry over into the voting booth for the majority of Iraqis.

Juan Cole discusses what the death of al-Hakim could mean for Iraqi politics:

After al-Hakim fell ill with cancer and began spending most of his time in Iran undergoing treatment, the UIA coalition fell apart. A rival of the Supreme Council, the Islamic Mission Party or Da'wa, grew in strength, benefiting from the vigorous leadership of Prime Minister Nuri al- Maliki (from spring 2006). Elements of the old Shiite coalition were put together again by other players this summer, with a new Iraqi National Alliance being announced just days ago. ISCI cleric and parliamentarian, Humam al-Hamudi, will chair the UIA coalition, succeeding al-Hakim. Al-Hamudi is known as a committed Shiite activist who played a major role in crafting Iraq's constitution [...]

Ash-Sharq al-Awsat (The Middle East) reports in Arabic that the future of the new Shiite coalition, the Iraqi National Alliance, is shaky now that its leader is dead. Other observers doubted that things would change much on the ground, since Abdul Aziz was already on extended medical leave and all the arrangements were undertaken by his office.

The death of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim emblazons a question mark over Iraqi politics going forward. Important parliamentary elections are scheduled for January, and al-Hakim is not there to lead his own coalition to the polls. His son Ammar is still inexperienced and relatively young. The foremost figure in ISCI outside the al-Hakim family is probably Iraqi vice president Adil Abdul Mahdi, who is widely viewed as a pragmatist rather than a party activist.

There's still lots of dealmaking left to be done, but al-Hakim's death probably strengthened Maliki's position at a time where it appeared he could get muscled out. Overall, talking political infighting is a far better discussion to have about Iraq than, well, fighting.

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