- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 1, 2005

BAGHDAD - Many consider Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the prominent cleric who leads the United Iraqi Alliance, to have emerged as the country’s top Shi’ite power broker since the Jan. 30 elections.

The alliance he leads with the backing of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, the country’s most powerful Shi’ite cleric, took 140 of the 275 seats in the National Assembly, the body charged with writing a new constitution.

In an interview Sunday, Mr. al-Hakim spoke in Arabic at his heavily fortified office in central Baghdad:

Question: What point have talks with other political groups reached?

Answer: Ongoing talks are taking place in a positive atmosphere, and we are optimistic that we will get to agree, that there won’t be a problem. …

Q: The Kurds have listed conditions for their negotiations with the rest of the political groups. Do they include demands about the Kirkuk issue? (Kurds have said they want the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk to be included in the autonomous Kurdish enclave.)

A: They talked with us, but they didn’t list demands such as the one you mentioned. We will, after a while, be meeting with the brotherly Kurds, with the committee assigned by the alliance. (A 21-member committee handles negotiations between the alliance and other political groups.)

Q: When will the first session of the National Assembly convene?

A: I hope it convenes at the beginning of next week, but we know that some technical problems might create obstacles and cause delays.

Q: Ayatollah al-Sistani blessed the alliance before and after elections, and it’s believed that was the reason people voted for the alliance. How do you respond?

A: It is an important reason. The clerics have a big impact on the Iraqi people, and certainly when this cleric blessed a certain list, or when he said that he is by the side of a certain list, people will react positively — react as they did. But that doesn’t mean that the members of the list are not popular among the Iraqi people. …

Q: In the alliance, there are some members who have their own agendas and might try to pressure the entire coalition. It is clear that this was the case during the nomination for the post of prime minister. What is your response?

A: Yes. The decision [to nominate Ibrahim al-Jaafari for prime minister] was taken unanimously, and this is very important. The brothers who nominated him vowed to stand by the prime minister to help him succeed.

Q: Islamic Shariah and the constitution?

A: There are three points: First, that there must be a respect for the Islamic identity. Second, that Islam is the official religion of the state. Third, that there should not be any law that violates Islam.

Q: What is the position of the alliance toward federalism?

A: We do not oppose the idea, as we said before. … Our brothers the Kurds believe that federalism will solve their problems, and we see no harm in adopting this system in Iraq. …

Q: What are the practical steps the alliance believes will achieve security and stability in Iraq?

A: First of all, the most important and central point is to depend on the Iraqi people to solve the security issue. … We must depend on the sons of the Iraqi people who believe in the new Iraq, and not on those bad elements that infiltrated the security circles and turned into a problem. …

Q: What are the mistakes of the American occupation?

A: The occupation committed many mistakes, and the most important were the ones related to security issues. …

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