The leader of one of Iraq’s most powerful Shi’ite Muslim political groups and most important religious dynasties has died, adding to political uncertainty in the war-torn country with an election looming next year.
Abdul Aziz Al-Hakim succumbed to cancer at the age of 59. The head of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, a major partner in the Shi’ite-led government, his demise leaves a vacuum that may prove hard to fill. On the streets of Baghdad news of Al-Hakim’s death was a cause for concern. “Actually, it will influence the political process, it will have a great effect. We want the politicians to bridge the gap and be united and work on unifying this dear country,” said one man. “I do not know what to say, but it will undoubtedly affect the political situation,” said another. Al-Hakim’s impeccable political and religious credentials made him a pivotal figure among the region’s power brokers. Only this week, the ISCI announced a new, mainly Shi’ite alliance including radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who holds sway over the “stood down” Medhi army. Significantly, the alliance does not include Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, an increasingly aloof and assertive leader now seen as a potential rival to the ISCI rather than a close ally.