BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – The leader of one of Iraq’s most powerful Shiite Muslim political groups and most important religious dynasties died on Wednesday, said his party’s parliamentary leader, Jalal al-Din al-Sagheer.
The death of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, who had been suffering from cancer, added to political uncertainty ahead of national polls in January and at a time when Iraq has seen a series of devastating bombings.
Hakim, born in 1950, headed the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (ISCI) since 2003, after his brother, Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Baqer al-Hakim, was killed in a car bomb. Abdul Aziz al-Hakim’s son Ammar al-Hakim is expected to next lead ISCI.
ISCI is part of Iraq’s ruling Shiite alliance, which also includes Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Dawa party, but ISCI announced this week it would lead a new group to compete in January’s polls without Maliki.
The overtly religious party became a major political player in majority Shiite Iraq after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion ousted Sunni Muslim dictator Saddam Hussein, and its role in the Iraqi government was backed by the United States.
It was founded in neighbouring Shiite Iran, where many of its senior leaders lived for years in exile during Saddam’s rule.
Although ISCI lost ground to Maliki’s Dawa in provincial elections last January, the well-organised and well-funded party wields major clout and will be a formidable competitor in January.
ISCI has several members in top ministerial posts, and has influence in Iraq’s security forces, which include members of ISCI’s armed affiliate, the Badr Organisation.
ISCI derives much of its support from the Hakim family name, revered among Shiites for its lineage of scholars and sacrifice in the face of persecution by Saddam’s Sunni-led regime.