Saturday, February 24, 2007

Hakim's Popularity in Iraq

A few weeks ago an Iraqi American friend told me he thinks that Abdul Aziz al Hakim's son (Ammar) is actually smarter than his father. No matter what you think of the father, the Hakim family is very popular among the Iraqi Shia.

Arrest of Iraqi Shi'ite leader's son proves to be misstep for US
Incident strains uneasy relations; apology is offered

By Christian Berthelsen, Los Angeles Times | February 24, 2007

BAGHDAD -- The US military detained the son of one of America's closest political allies in Iraq for several hours yesterday, raising the ire of Shi'ite Muslim officials and straining delicate relations with Iraqi leadership. The American ambassador here quickly apologized for the incident.

Meanwhile, the US military announced that three soldiers attached to American-led forces were killed in combat in the Sunni-dominated Anbar province on Thursday, but released few details pending notification of relatives. At least 3,154 American troops have died in Iraq since the US-led invasion in March 2003, according to, a website that tracks casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Soldiers arrested Ammar al-Hakim and at least three of his bodyguards around noon as they crossed into Iraq from Iran about 80 miles southeast of Baghdad, the capital. His father, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, heads the largest Shi'ite voting bloc in the Iraqi Parliament. The elder Hakim met with President Bush in December in Washington and pledged to help end bloodshed in Iraq.

In a telephone interview with the Los Angeles Times, Ammar al-Hakim said troops arrested him because his passport was nearing expiration and they thought his identification picture did not match his appearance. He complained of being treated roughly by US soldiers, including being blindfolded as he was transported to a military base and having his underwear searched once he arrived there.

"We supported the new Baghdad [security] plan and we hoped that it would succeed, but at the same time people's dignity should be respected," Hakim said. He said the government would seek answers from the United States about how the incident was handled.

Hakim was released after about seven hours, and US officials rapidly began damage control efforts. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad appeared on Iraqi government television, saying that the United States was "sorry about the arrest" and meant no disrespect.

Hakim's father leads the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI, the largest Shi'ite party in Parliament. The elder Hakim was a onetime opponent of Saddam Hussein and spent much of the 1980s in exile in Iran as a commander of the Badr Corps. The Badr Corps has been criticized for close ties with Iran and has been accused of operating death squads targeting Sunnis, but it is also viewed as among the more moderate Shi'ite forces in Iraq.

Ammar al-Hakim heads the Shahid al-Mihrab Foundation, a charity affiliated with SCIRI that provides food and money to the foundation's supporters.

News of Hakim's arrest drew widespread attention yesterday , a day of relative calm in Iraq.

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