Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Iraq's al-Hakim meets Jordanian King, angers Sunni's with comments

Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim spent years in exile in Iran, and heads the Iranian-sponsored Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)

AMMAN, Jordan: The leader of the largest Shiite political group met with Jordan's King Abdullah on Wednesday and reportedly said afterward that Iraq's Sunni Arabs would be the biggest losers in case of civil war.

Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiyah, the Arab world's top 24-hour news channels, quoted Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim making the remarks, but the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq denied the reports.

"A civil war will be a loss for everyone and not a particular sect," said a statement issued al-Hakim delegation in Jordan. "It (civil war) is rejected by Iraqis and those who start it will have to shoulder the responsibility for its consequences."

Regardless, the news accounts touched a nerve among Sunni Arab politicians and topped television news programs across much of the region Wednesday night.

"His comments betray a sectarian behavior that paves the way for a sectarian war," Saleh al-Mutlaq, a senior Sunni Arab politician, said on Al-Jazeera.

The uproar reflects Iraq's deepening Sunni-Shiite tensions nearly four years after the ouster of Saddam Hussein's regime, which signaled the end of decades of domination by the Sunni Arab minority and empowered majority Shiites.

The Iraqi Accordance Front, parliament's largest Sunni Arab bloc, said in a statement early Thursday that the comment attributed to al-Hakim was "unacceptable."

"Political leaders and officials must not be tempted into making such dangerous comments which pour fuel on a fire and take away from the credibility of those who make them."

Al-Hakim is reviled by many Sunni Arabs in Iraq for his close ties to non-Arab, Shiite Iran, Iraq's enemy in a ruinous, eight-year war in the 1980s.

The Badr Brigade, a militia affiliated with al-Hakim's party, is blamed for sectarian killings and the assassination of members of Saddam's now-outlawed Baath party.

Redha Jawad Taqi, a senior aide traveling with al-Hakim, said the Shiite politician was scheduled to fly later to Washington where he was to meet President George W. Bush on Monday.

Read the rest at the International Herald Tribune