Abdul Aziz al-Hakim rose from persecution under Saddam Hussein’s rule to
Abdul Aziz al-Hakim was a key player in Iraqi politics, being a principle Shia Muslim leader and chairman of the Iranian-backed Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI).
A member of a prestigious clerical family based in al-Najaf, central Iraq, al-Hakim fled religious persecution by Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-led government in Iraq in the late 1970s.
However, by his death in 2009 al-Hakim was not only a locus of power in Iraqi politics, but a symbol of the Shia community’s emergence from decades of oppression by Saddam and their return to power.
Al-Hakim’s family moved to Iran in 1980 where ISCI was founded to fight against Saddam’s Baath party rule. The ISCI aided the Iranian army in the eight-year Iran-Iraq war.
Al-Hakim led the Badr Brigade, the military wing of the ISCI, during the 1980-88 conflict.
The family led the 1991 Shia uprising against Saddam’s government from Iran, with whose government he built strong ties.
Al-Hakim returned to Iraq after the US-led invasion in 2003 that ended Saddam’s rule. He was selected as a Shia member in the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council (IGC).
After his brother, Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, was assassinated in al-Najaf on 29 August, 2003, he succeeded him as chairman of ISCI.
The younger al-Hakim lacked the charisma and political know-how of his brother, but proved an able leader and fast learner.
ISCI became an influential group in Iraqi politics after the occupation and it pushed to secure an Iranian-style government in Iraq.
Yet, it fashioned ties to Washington at the same time as remaining close to Iran, with al-Hakim seeing the US military as key to the Shia’s rise.
He was mistrusted by many Sunnis in Iraq, and his vigorous backing for Shia self-rule in southern Iraq was considered by many Sunnis to be a ploy to install Iranian control of the region.
In the 2005 parliament election, he formed a Shia alliance which took a majority and subsequently allied with the Kurds to form a government.
Many analysts have said that al-Hakim played a significant role in Iraqi national unity and persevered in trying to reduce differences of opinion between groups.
But Shia parties suffered losses in provincial elections in January 2009, apparently due to reactions against religious parties and the Supreme Council’s failure to improve public services.
Two days before al-Hakim’s death, the ISCI formed a new Shia coalition, this time without the Dawa party of Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, to contest elections in January 2009.
Al-Hakim died of lung cancer at the age of 59 on August 26, 2009, in a hospital in Tehran, the capital of Iran.