Al-Hakim: US Troops Should Stay;
Urges harsher Measures against Sunni Guerrillas
Al-Zaman reports in Arabic that Iraqi Shiite cleric Abdul Aziz al-Hakim for the first time expressed his opposition to the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, after his meeting with US Secretary of State Condi Rice. He said that the Iraqi government wants US troops to stay, and appreciates their sacrifices for Iraqi liberty, but would like more responsibility given to Iraqi officials and the Iraqi military forces.
Al-Hakim urged Bush to hit the Sunni Arab guerrillas harder. Since the US forces in Iraq are mainly fighting Sunni Arab guerrillas, it is hard to imagine what al-Hakim imagines could further be done. Despite his ecumenical speeches in Sunni Jordan last summer, al-Hakim frequently urges a hard line against the “neo-Baathists” and militant Salafi revivalists,i.e., the Sunni Arabs of Iraq.
Al-Hakim is the leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Shiite fundamentalist organization founded in Tehran in 1982 when many Iraqi Shiite activists had sought Ayatollah Khomeini’s protection from Saddam Hussein. He spent over 20 years in Iran.
Al-Zaman’s Cairo sources also say that the Arab League is about to propose a multi-country conference on Iraq. The Arab League members are largely Sunni and have had rocky relations with the Shiite and Kurdis leadership of post-Saddam Iraq.
The LA Times reports that al-Hakim again rejected the notion of talks involving Iraq’s neighbors as a way of helping resolve the political violence. Al-Hakim takes this stance because he knows that if the neighbors have a say, it will empower Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other Sunni regimes. At the moment, Iran has a commanding position in Iraq, because of its influence with the ruling Shiite bloc. Al-Hakim sees no reason for Tehran to give up that position to Riyadh.
Al-Hayat’s sources in Washington say that al-Hakim’s discussions with Bush focused on how to strengthen the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, and what to do about young Shiite firebrand Muqtada al-Sadr.
Reuters reports that Iraqi authorities found 52 bodies in the capital on Monday. Seven bodies showed up in the northern city of Mosul, which also witnessed violence between the Iraqi guerrillas and the new Iraqi military.
I did two radio interviews on al-Hakim’s visit to Washington on Monday. One was with Michele Kelemen at NPR’s All Things Considered (this page has an audio file);