The Incredible Vanishing Iraqi Political Leadership:
Al-Hakim to Iran, Talabani to US
Abdul Aziz al-Hakim has chosen to seek chemotherapy for his lung cancer in Iran rather than in the US. His condition was confirmed during a visit to a hospital in Houston this weekend. He is likely to be absent from Iraq in Iran for several months, and says he is going there so as to be closer to his family than he would be in the US.
Al-Hakim leads the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), the most powerful Shiite party in Iraq, which controls Baghdad province and 8 other provinces (Iraq has 18 provinces). The party also has some 30 seats in parliament, but that is not as important as al-Hakim’s leading role in the United Iraqi Alliance, the leading Shiite coalition in parliament, which has formed both federal governments in the past 3 years.
Despite its elected government, Iraq is actually run by a small handful of movers and shakers. These include the two Kurdish leaders, Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani. Then on the Shiite side you have al-Hakim and Da’wa Party leader Nuri al-Maliki. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and Sunni Arab vice president Tariq al-Hashimi are on the margins of the top Shiite/Kurdish club.
So of the central club, al-Hakim is now absent. And, Jalal Talabani is flying to the US to spend three weeks, allegedly in a bid to lose weight. I’m tempted to speculate that something is in the works such that someone thinks it desirable that Talabani be out of country, since the idea that Mam Jalal suddenly decided he needed to go to a fat farm in Minnesota strikes me as far-fetched. But I will control myself; speculation in the absence of information is not very useful.
US VP Dick Cheney went to Iraq recently to impress on the Iraqi politicians the need for them to stay at their desks and pass four benchmark laws in parliament, rather than going on summer vacation. But here you have the president and the leader of the largest bloc out of country. Not to mention that another important figure, Muqtada al-Sadr is in hiding in the Kufa area of Iraq, apparently afraid that the US “surge” will include another attempt to assassinate him, such as, Patrick Cockburn reports, the US military undertook but failed in August, 2004.
Nothing is likely to get done in their absence. Even under the best of circumstances, getting Talabani, Barzani, al-Hakim, al-Maliki and al-Hashimi all on the same page is nearly a miracle. But for the next few weeks it won’t be possible at all.
By the way, Talabani and al-Hakim were among the closest allies of the US Neoconservatives, who Sarah Baxter says are in their twilight.
Will al-Maliki take advantage of this vacuum to grab more powers for the office of prime minister? So far he has not shown that kind of political savvy. But his predecessor, Ibrahim Jaafari, did try to make Talabani a merely ceremonial president. And, the weaker Da’wa Party may want to try to come up in the world now that the SIIC leadership is weakened.
Meanwhile, the civil war continued, catching up US troops in the middle. Guerrillas killed 7 with roadside bombs on Sunday. The weekend death toll among US GIs since Friday has been 15.
Police found 24 bodies in the streets of Baghdad on Sunday. 9 bodies were found in Falluja. There were clashes between the Mahdi Army and Iraqi security forces & US troops at Kut in the Shiite south. There was a chlorine gas truck bombing in Ramadi, which killed 1 and wounded 11.
There were also clashes between British troops and the Mahdi Army in the southern port city of Basra.
Among the dead Sunday was a young editor and journalist at al-Zaman (the Times of Baghdad. Ali Khalil’s assassination