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Profile: Abdulaziz al Hakim | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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London, Asharq Al-Awsat- The al Hakim family was destined to assume two leaderships: an absolute Shia religious leadership when Grand Ayatollah Muhsin al Hakim (1889-1970) assumed the position of marja’a [supreme Shia spiritual leader] in the 50s unto his death in 1970, and an almost-absolute Shia political leadership through the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)*, which was established by Mohammed Baqir al Hakim in Iran in 1982. The SCIRI was later headed by al Sayyid Abdulaziz al Hakim after the assassination of this brother Baqir al Hakim in Najaf in 2003.

It is unknown if the al Hakim family was the only one among the Shia to assume the two leaderships, although the positions were not simultaneous.

According to ancestry books, “the al Hakim family genealogy traces back to Imam Ali many generations down the line. One of al Sayyid Muhsin al Hakim’s ancestors, al Sayyid Ali al Hakim was a renowned doctor during Shah Abbas Savafi’s era. He published a medical book entitled ‘al Tajarib al Tibeya’ (Medical Experiments), and since that time the family was given the name al Hakim (the word for ‘doctor’ in Arabic), which thereby became the family’s famous epithet.”

Therefore, Abdulaziz al Hakim is the descendent of two leaderships; the religious and the political. He is the youngest and only surviving son of Ayatollah Muhsin al Hakim, who had 10 sons but Saddam Hussein’s regime executed eight, while the ninth, Mohammed Baqir al Hakim, was killed in a car bomb explosion in Najaf after having just completed Friday prayers at the shrine of Imam Ali.

Born in 1950 in Najaf, Abdulaziz al Hakim began his studies at Najaf’s al hawza al Ilmiya [religious seminary] at a young age and studied the basic premises at the Madrasat al Ulum al Islameya (School of Islamic Studies), which was founded by his grandfather al Hakim and was supervised over by Mohammed Baqir al Hakim. During his early years of study, he studied under prominent professors of ‘fiqh’ (Islamic jurisprudence) and ‘osool’ (tradition), among them Mohamed Baqir al Hakim, Abdel Sahib al Hakim and al Sayyid Mohammed al Hashmi.

After concluding this preliminary stage, he was transferred to the ‘al bahth al kahrij’ (external studies) in fiqh and osool, and attended the classes of Mohammed Baqir al Sadr at the time when he held his classes at Masjid al Tusi. For a short period, he studied al bahth al kahrij under Grand Ayatollah Abul-Qassim al Khoei, who at the time was the Shia marja’a [he was appointed as the Shia spiritual leader in 1971 following the death of Ayatollah Muhsin al Hakim]. While studying in 1977, the student Abdulaziz issued his report on the subject of al bahth al kahrij.

The men of al Hakim family had aspirations that through Mohammed Baqir and his brother Abdulaziz that the family’s name could be restored to the broad Shia forefront, which could not have been fulfilled on a political level since they could not assume any political posts under Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical regime. Characterized by being oppressive to Iraqis in general and the Shia specifically, the regime would not have allowed for any opportunity of political ascent. However in the realm of religion, the brothers directed their thoughts and efforts to the hawza.

By virtue of his education, Abdulaziz al Hakim had a calm disposition and was known to be a good listener who thought thoroughly before answering any questions. In press interviews his answers are brief and precise and he is attentive to your presence despite his preoccupation. Although Abdulaziz al Hakim primary preoccupation is Iraq and its people, some of his enemies have described him as being sectarian and an extremist.

Merging between his preoccupation with public social work and his studies at the religious seminary, early during his studies al Hakim pioneered in authoring the ‘Dictionary of Fiqh terminology’. He spent a year working on this project but had to stop because of the Islamic situation at the time and what followed after that which culminated in the 1979 revolution [Iran Islamic revolution].

During that period, Mohammed Baqir al Sadr was the leading symbol in the Shia authority who was influenced by leader of the Islamic revolution Ayatollah Khomeini’s ideas at a time when the Shia authority, led by Grand Ayatollah Abul-Qassim al Khoei, was cautious to keep a distance from politics. This was done with the intention of avoiding Saddam Hussein’s oppressive regime, which claimed hundreds of lives from the Shia sect and the Sunnis and Kurds alike.

In the formative years of the Supreme Shia authority, a special committee called the ‘Special Consultative Committee’ was established and was entitled with that project [the development of the Supreme Shia authority]. The members of the committee were al Sadr, Mohammed Baqir al Hakim, al Sayyid Kadhim al Haeri and al Sayyid Mahmoud al Hashmi.

However after al Sadr was detained by Saddam’s regime, Abdulaziz al Hakim became completely dedicated to coordinating al Sadr’s relations abroad. He became the link between al Sadr and his students and the Iraqi Shia both in Iraq and abroad and used to send messages to al Sadr, who was placed under strict surveillance, and receive guidance for them. In al Sadr, he found a revolutionary model that Iraq’s Shia needed, as well as a religious leader capable of opposing Saddam’s regime and avenging the dozens of lives Saddam claimed from his family, including his eight brothers.

After al Sadr issued his famous address to confront Saddam Hussein’s regime and to resort to an armed resistance as a form of confrontation, Abdulaziz al Hakim adopted the armed struggle. After he left Iraq to Iran, along with a group of rebels, he established the Iraqi Mujahideen movement in the early eighties, a move Iran encouraged since it had been embroiled in war with Iraq since 1980.

However, the public opposition of Saddam Hussein’s regime began with the announcement of the establishment of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) at the hands of Mohammed Baqir al Hakim in 1982. He was a founder and a member of the party at its earliest stages, and moreover was the head of the SCIRI’s executive office during its third session. Additionally, he was a member of SCIRI’s central consultative body since 1986 until he was elected as the head of the SCIRI following the death of Mohammed Baqir al Hakim in September 2003.

Abdulaziz was always present at his brother’s side while at the SCIRI . Rather, he was the man assigned with the difficult task of proposing strategic solutions to problems, in addition to managing the SCIRI’s relations with the rest of the oppositional Iraqi factions. Although Mohammed Baqir was at the forefront, Abdulaziz was the one who worked behind the scenes to strengthen their work and activities infusing them with dynamism. Still, he was not satisfied with this work alone and started directing his efforts to the field of human rights, with his accurate perception of its importance in all fields worldwide.

In the mid-80s, Abdulaziz established ‘The Human Rights Documentation Center’ in Iraq, which later developed and expanded to become a primary source for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the designated headquarters for human rights in Iraq and the government and non-governmental human rights organizations when the accurate figure and statistics of the former regime’s security apparatuses’ brutal atrocities against Iraqis were revealed.

Alongside his human rights activities, Abdulaziz also worked in the field of humanitarian relief, supporting and providing aid for the Iraqi refugee camps that were abandoned by the former regime when they were stripped of their civil rights and their Iraqi nationalities as they were deemed to be of Iranian origin.

Abdulaziz al Hakim used to attend most of the conferences and meetings since the beginning of the first signs of the US-led military action against Saddam’s regime, since he was considered the chief representative of the SCIRI. At the behest of his brother Mohammed Baqir, he was appointed to manage the SCIRI’s political aspect in Iraq and as such, headed the party’s delegation to Washington. This was considered a substantial shift in the SCIRI’s ideology and strategy, especially as the council headquarters was based in Tehran.

But Abdulaziz wanted to deliver a message to the effect that they were free in their decisions and that Iran was not involved in the SCIRI’s decisions or actions and that it was simply a hosting country. Moreover, Abdulaziz participated in the management of the SCIRI’s political operation in the preparatory committee preceding the London conference in 2002, followed by the Salahuddin conference [held in the northern Iraqi city of Salahuddin], and in the political operation that followed the fall of Saddam’s regime. Abdul Aziz was one of the first to re-enter Iraq in the early days after the fall of the regime.

There was much skepticism that Abdulaziz would accept to be a member of the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, which was established during Presidential Envoy to Iraq, Ambassador Paul Bremer’s appointment after toppling Saddam Hussein’s regime, however, Abdulaziz displayed the flexibility of a political leader who wanted to preserve his sect’s gains, which his brothers and cousins had sacrificed their lives for. And thus he became a member of the Governing Council and a member of its leadership, furthermore heading the council in its session that ended in December.

Exhibiting a unique political prowess that is not customarily characteristic of clerics, Abdulaziz was able to prove that he was capable of handling more than one task at a time when the matter was related to preserving the achievements of the Shia sect. He excelled at the political game without becoming embroiled in the pitfalls of politics in the aftermath of agreements and pledges, and because of that was able to maintain impeccable relations with Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani, Iraqi politicians and the US administration simultaneously.

The fruit of his good relations manifested in the formation of the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), which is comprised of a number of Shia blocs and parties in Iraq and was established with the intention of serving the Shia and providing further achievements for the sect. The UIA won the majority of seats in the 2005 Iraqi legislative elections, gaining the most number of seats in the national assembly.

In a display of boldness transparency and openness, Abdul Hakim officially dropped the word ‘revolutionary’ from the party’s name making it know from there after as the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC). Abdul Hakim set the SIIC house in order before departing to Iran to receive his second chemotherapy treatment for lung cancer, which he was battling. It would seem that he is not worried about the progress of the party, which has come to be associated with the al Hakim family name. The family sees that the council is its right after having sacrificed a multitude of its sons in the name of Iraq, giving everything it possessed to form the council and as such, would not be willing to hand it over to others. This is especially true since the young Ammar and Muhsin al Hakim led a political battle and emerged triumphant after many difficult tests and both of who possess a successful and intelligent outlook for leadership.

Abdulaziz, like the other sons of the religious authority, only married from a family with a religious background and traditional roots in Najaf. He married the daughter of Mohammad Hadi al Sadr who bore him four children; the most prominent among them are Ammar al Hakim, the head of Shahid al Mihrab foundation, and Muhsin al Hakim, his grandfather’s namesake.

But if Ammar’s name is renowned among the political and media circles as the patron of a cultural organization that sponsors youth, his brother Muhsin prefers to work away from the spotlight and only meets with whom he wishes to speak with and is not interested in being featured in the press.

I met with Mushin al Hakim last April at the SIIC headquarters in Baghdad as I waited for my meeting with his brother Ammar with the purpose of exchanging views about what was happening in Iraq. It soon became apparent that Abdulaziz al Hakim, who had mastered the balance between politician and cleric had also somehow managed to balance between his sons; Ammar was always garbed in religious attire and spoke more like a cleric than a politician, as opposed to his brother Muhsin who normally could be seen dressed in a suit without a tie. I do not know whether that was the Iranian influence on his dressing habits or if, like many people, he disliked wearing neckties.

However despite the fact that Muhsin al Hakim had studied at the religious seminary in Qom, his rhetoric is more political than religious. It is especially evident in his clearly enunciated thoughts, which he voices directly without skirting around issues and the immediate expression of his thoughts out loud.

According to a source close to the SIIC, Abdulaziz al Hakim takes his son Muhsin with him to all the political meeting that are held between the heads of states and [political] parties without the son interfering in any discussions or debates, rather, he remains a observer who watches closely and carefully records his observations.

Perhaps what provokes the head of the SIIC and his sons the most is when their enemies strip them of their patriotism and their loyalty to Iraq and accuse them of being affiliated to Iran. Indeed, there are some who harshly accuse [al Hakim] on a political; level, stating that they have forged close relations with Iran. During the negotiations for a new constitution last year, [Abdulaziz] al Hakim exerted a great deal of pressure to include clauses that would allow for future establishment of a Shia federal state in south Iraq, which has resulted in outraging many. These same people see that these pressures are a prelude to the dismantling of Iraq whereby the Shia would control the land and the oil resources in the south and with the Kurdish-controlled land and oil resources in the north, there remains little left for the Sunni majority in central Iraq – save the desert.

* Officials from the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) informed Reuters of the organizations name change to the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) in May 2007. The Islamist party stated explained that it would drop the ‘revolution’ in its name since it was a reference to overthrowing the Baathist government and was thus presently redundant.