Iraq and Gulf Analysis

ISCI Media Say Ammar al-Hakim Will Assume Political Leadership

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 31 August 2009 23:54

Yesterday, Humam Hammudi, considered an influential power broker within the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), said Ammar al-Hakim would be the sole candidate for the leadership of ISCI after the death of his father, Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim. Today, news outlets close to ISCI such as Buratha News carry a story to the effect that the leadership council of ISCI has decided that Ammar will be elected to succeed his father tomorrow. The decision is portrayed as a “blow to the American and Baathist media who were talking about a succession crisis in ISCI”.

What is often forgotten in discussions of the succession issue in ISCI is that ISCI itself is a sort of coalition, or even a confederation. It was originally intended as an umbrella organisation when Iran created it in 1982, but as more and more Iraqis defected from its pro-Khomeini line, its membership became more restricted and the Hakim family came to dominate its leadership. However, since the 1990s, and especially since 2003, this flexible structure has been used to admit new members, including “Hizbollah in Iraq” (headed by Hasan al-Sari) and the Sayyid al-Shuhada movement. This dynamic organisational chart may in itself also help ISCI through a succession crisis, since potential discontents, for example in the Badr Organisation, still retain their semi-autonomous spheres of operation.

ISCI “family picture” from 2007 featuring members of ISCI the mother party, the Badr Organisation, “Hizbollah in Iraq” and the Sayyid al-Shuhada movement

ISCI “family photo” from 2007 featuring members of ISCI's main branch, the Badr Organisation, “Hizbollah in Iraq” and the Sayyid al-Shuhada movement. At the time, Ammar al-Hakim represented the Shahid al-Mihrab Foundation.

8 Responses to “ISCI Media Say Ammar al-Hakim Will Assume Political Leadership”

  1. Mike said

    Thanks for the post. Does this mean that Ammar will assume leadership of the INA also, or does this remain up in the air? A lot of talk about which ISCI/Shiite grandee will be their head of list, and presumably Prime Ministerial candidate: any ideas?

  2. Reidar Visser said

    Humam Hammudi has gone out of his way to reject any suggestion that the leadership question of the new INA (for which he himself is considered a possible candidate) and any future PM (Adil Abd al-Mahdi has already been mentioned) has already been settled. Presumably the reason is that not only might the Sadrists get rather upset over any such decision, but also that it would destroy the narrative that all sorts of wonderful nationalist forces from outside the Shiite Islamist circles are going to join the alliance later on. And clearly it would close the door for Maliki as well. A member of Fadila (which signed up for the INA in the last minute) said any discussion about future distribution of seats and leadership positions had been postponed out of fear that the internal balance in the new alliance might collapse.

  3. Sina Kashefipour said

    Interesting post. What will it mean for the Iraqi political scene now that the leadership is changing to younger men like Moqatada and Ammar? Do they represent the values of their fathers or are they more likely to strike out their own course? If there is change, will it be dramatic shifts or do you think the shift will gradual and imperceptible?

  4. Reidar Visser said

    Muqtada has used the occasion of the death of Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim to make reconciliatory gestures towards ISCI. This has already been in the making for some time, as the two men, both based in Iran, moved closer during the process of revamping the old UIA. With regard to the future, from Iran’s point of view Muqtada is probably more unpredictable than Ammar. The Hakims have traditionally been quite conservative in terms of adhering to the traditional norms of the Shiite clergy. The late Muhammad Baqir, who was considered a mujtahid (a cleric capable of interpreting the Islamic law and issuing fatwas) only was in the early beginning of the process of establishing himself as a marja (source of emulation) when he was killed in August 2003; contemporary sources invariably refer to him as an ayatollah and it is only a few ISCI publications of a later date that have posthumously elevated him to a grand ayatollah. For his part, Abd al-Aziz never made any special claim to being an Islamic scholar and it is only Western journalists that refer to him as a “leading cleric” or even “theologian”. Ammar, like his father, has not completed a full hawza education, and it seems unlikely that he will try to circumvent the traditional procedures. Instead he may be expected to defer to the recognised Shiite clergy, whether in Najaf or Qum, in many key questions. Muqtada, on the other hand, has earlier toyed with the idea of becoming a fatwa-issuing cleric at a sensationally young age, and this fact, along with the tendencies of some of his followers to engage in unpredictable Mahdist activities, probably means that there could be unease in certain circles in Iran at the prospect of his early return to Iraq.

  5. bb said

    Heh, heh, fascinating developments. For years the accepted narrative was that the ISCI were the federalists seeking to establish a shiite super region and the Sadrists were the virtuous nationalists, implacably opposed to same. Also that ISCI were beholden to Iran whereas the Sadrists were fiercey independent. And yet here they are forming an alliance to present themselves as the next government of Iraq – and all this is facilitated in Iran!

    It’s very hard for me to believe that the shia parties will not coalesce to contest the election. Otherwise they would risk losing the right to nominate the next PM and cabinet to a united Kurdish bloc? Sistani and co in Najaf would be acutely aware of this risk.

    So these present developments are surely most likely to be the manouvrings typical of electoral systems based on party list PR, in that Maliki is insisting on taking a much larger share of the seats than Dawa had in the UIA? And at the end of the day a compromise will be negotiated which will result in Maliki leading the party to the election?

  6. Reidar Visser said

    The centralism-federalism spat between the Sadrists and ISCI hasn’t been extinguished entirely. While the Hakims effectively stopped propagandising for the particular scheme of a nine-governorate Shiite federal region back in 2007 following the controversy of the Biden plan (with the exception of a few individual vocal adherents of the Region of the Centre of the South/South of Baghdad Region inside the party and in the Badr Organisation, it was really mostly the international media, not least the pan-Arab newspapers, that kept the Shiite region as an “ISCI issue” on the agenda in 2008 and 2009), they have been continuing to campaign for radical decentralisation with a focus on the existing governorates. As late as one month ago, both Ammar al-Hakim and Hadi al-Amiri were touring the Middle Euphrates governorates telling local politicians they should have more powers vis-à-vis the central government. This could in other words turn into something of a conflict with the Sadrists (and an obstacle with regard to the prospect of Maliki joining them as well), even though we should perhaps remember that while the Sadrist parliamentarians mostly appear to be full-blooded centralists, Muqtada himself has been more ambivalent on the subject than most commentators give him credit for, with a somewhat Delphic “No to federalism under occupation” a recurrent theme of his rhetoric.

    Maliki still seems to be considering a non-sectarian alliance, although the latest bombings and his resort to accusations of “Syrian-sponsored Baathists” effectively reduces his options for rapprochement with the nationalist opposition.

  7. bb said

    Was always skeptical of the accepted narrative of those years that the sadrists were genuine “nationalists” and not sectarian and this was confirmed to me when the sadrists imposed sharia law and religious courts in every area they controlled – in direct contravention of the Iraqi constitution.

    The two DAWA parties had only 25 seats in the UIA against the 80 seats allocated to ISCI, Sadrists and Fadhila. In the light of the results of the provincial elections it is to be expected that Maliki would be insisting on a major reversal of these allocations? He seems to have them over a barrell, but we shall see.

    Just regarding al-Hakim, I found your obit a little ungenerous. To say “Hakim had earlier lost all his other brothers in confrontations with the Baathist regime;” is rather understating a scenario where 6 of his brothers were executed, assassinated or otherwise killed by Saddam’s regime and the seventh was blown up by the sunni insurgency. Baath atrocities since 1980 were very fresh in the memories of the shia and kurds post 2003 and it was most ironic to see them being accused of sectarianism.

    Also, where would Hakim have “chosen” to go for treatment for terminal cancer other than Tehran? The United States? Goodness what would have been surmised about that!

  8. Reidar Visser said

    But remember that lots of Shiites were on the side of the regime before 2003. It is often forgotten that Shiite tribes played a major role in suppressing the 1991 revolt. That’s also why a process of national reconciliation based on sectarian categories is bound to get flawed.

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