Saturday, May 12, 2007

SCIRI drops 'revolution' from name, pledges allegiance to Sistani

Left: Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, Grand Ayatollah Sistani, and Moqtada al-Sadr.

Abdul Aziz al-Hakim is head of the Shi'ite coalition in parliament, the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), which put Maliki in power. Before the fall of Saddam, Hakim spent years in exile in Iran, where, as leader of the pro-Iranian Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) he headed the anti-Saddam Badr Brigade militia. After Saddam's fall, the Badr Brigade merged into Iraq's official security forces, and Hakim became a member of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council. In December, Hakim met with Bush in Washington, shortly before the administration attempted to coordinate Prime Minister Maliki's ouster with Hakim chosen by Washington to be the power-broker behind the scenes. But that plan was stopped dead in its tracks by Sistani. By February, Hakim was no longer Washington's favorite, and the U.S. raided the Baratha mosque in Baghdad, which is associated with the elder Hakim. The U.S. military says it was targeted for 'illegally armed militia kidnapping, torture and murder activities'. SCIRI (now Supreme Islamic Council in Iraq -- SICI) is the largest member of U.I.A.

Moqtada al-Sadr stayed in Iraq but in hiding during Saddam's time. He organized and headed the Mahdi Army militia, and was standard bearer for millions of Iraq's poorest citizens. While Hakim proved accommodating to the U.S., Sadr was the chief proponent for Shi'ite resistance to the occupation. The Sadrists are also members of the UIA coalition, though their members have resigned from Maliki's cabinet.

Both Hakim and Sadr have distinguished lineage in the shi'ite clergy, and both families have vied for generations for influence amongst the in shi'ites in Iraq. Both Hakim's and Sadr's parties want power in Baghdad, as well as the provinces containing the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala, and especially the southern province of Basra where the vast majority of Iraq's proven oil reserves lie, and Iraq's only outlet to the sea. Vying with them both is the much smaller Fadhila Islamic party, which recently withdrew its support of the UIA.

Both the Mahdi Army and Badr Brigade are heavily represented in various Iraqi security forces, including the army and the national police.

Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani is Iraq's most important shi'ite religious figure, who maintains close ties to both Hakim and Sadr, and who has several times brought them together to negotiate their differences. Sistani's main concerns are to protect shi'ites from sectarian violence and to promote a strong central government, separate from but still linked in important ways to Iran (he is of Iranian descent and there are tense but complex ties between Sistani's Najaf Hawza and the Qom Hawza in Iran). Those concerns are shared by Sadr. Up until today's announcement, Hakim was a proponent of sectarian federalism -- effectively partitioning Iraq into sectarian enclaves. Today's announcement appears to signal a moving away from that position.

Iraq's biggest Shi'ite party on Saturday pledged its allegiance to the country's top Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in a move that would distance it from Shi'ite Iran where it was formed.

The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) said it had introduced significant policy changes and changed its name to the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) -- dropping the word "Revolution."

Party officials told Reuters on Friday that the changes were aimed at giving the party more of an Iraqi flavor and to reflect the changing situation in the country since the U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Read the rest at Yahoo News

Related Link:
Report: Tensions simmering between Mahdi, Badr militias in Sadr City

Related Link:
Report: Shiite Mahdi, Badr militia members in armed clashes in Najaf on Friday

Related Link:
Report: Shiite Mahdi, Badr militia members in armed clash in Baghdad

Related Link:
Analysis: The Shi'ite power struggle escalates

Related Link:
Analysis: Iraq's Shiite political fissures widen

Related Link:
U.S.-Iraqi forces raid Baghdad's major mosque for 'kidnapping, torture and murder activities'