IRAQ: Shiite leader assassinated

Issue 

BY ROHAN PEARCE

While it is still unclear who was behind the August 29 death of Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al Hakim, killed along with 100 Shiites by a car bomb as they left the Imam Ali mosque in Najaf, the assassination has proved to be another setback for the attempt of Washington's Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to install a stable, pro-US puppet government in Iraq.

The assassination of Hakim, a member of the CPA-appointed Iraqi Governing Council (IGC), came only 10 days after a truck bomb had killed UN special representative Sergio Viera de Mello, another collaborator of the CPA. It further demonstrated that hollowness of US President George Bush's August 8 claim to be making "progress" in imposing "security" in Iraq.

Ousted Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein, one of the first accused of being behind the UN and Najaf attacks, issued a statement denying responsibility for Hakim's killing, though he did not issue a denial of responsibility for de Mello's assassination.

On August 30, half-a-million Shiites mourned Hakim on the streets of Najaf, most of them blaming the US occupation forces for his death, chanting "Down with America" and "No to America! No to Saddam! Revenge for Islam!". Many of those participating supported the idea of setting up their own militias to provide Shiites with security.

Covering Hakim's funeral, BBC correspondent Paul Wood reported: "The funeral was an overwhelming occasion — hundreds of thousands packing the streets, cries of grief mingling with shouts of revenge. Every single mourner I spoke to in the funeral cortege was anti-American, blaming them for allowing the bombing to take place... The demand of the mourners was for the Shia militias to be given more weapons and more powers and to take over security from the Americans."

"Such militias", the September 5 Christian Science Monitor observed, "already being organized by other groups who were initially supportive of ousting Saddam Hussein, could pose a challenge to US or multinational forces' attempts to assert control over the country."

Hakim's death robs the IGC of its most significant Shiite member. Hakim was head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the largest Shiite organisation in Iraq. He had initially spoken out against the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, but had been persuaded by de Mello to join the IGC, US administrator Paul Bremer's handpicked council of quislings.

An August 20 article in Lebanon's Daily Star argued that the SCIRI's spokespeople have had "the unenviable task of reconciling the organization's ideology" of clerical rule, "with its practical agenda" of cooperation with the CPA.

Hakim's death is likely to heighten a trend noted by a report of Brussels-based International Crisis Group titled "Governing Iraq". The report, released on August 25, noted that the formation of the ICG was an attempt by the US to "develop an interim authority that would have legitimacy in Iraq and abroad, appease the population and deflect criticism of the occupation forces".

However, argued the IGC, "it is unlikely to meet those goals fully", because "selected as it was by the CPA in consultation with pre-chosen political parties and personalities, the Interim Governing Council simply lacks credibility in the eyes of many Iraqis and much of the outside world".

The death of Hakim is not the only development that threatens the stability of the IGC. The Agence France-Presse wire service reported on August 18 that Jordanian politicians plan to request that the international police agency Interpol extradite Ahmad Chalabi to Jordan. Chalabi, a leading member of the IGC and head of the US-funded Iraqi National Congress, was convicted by a Jordanian court in 1992 of embezzling US$228 million from Jordan's Petra Bank.

On September 4, Shiite leader Muhammad Bahr al Ulloum, named on September 1 as finance minister in the IGC's cabinet, announced his withdrawal from the council, accusing the US occupiers of failing to provide adequate security to IGC members.

From Green Left Weekly, September 10, 2003.

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