'American hopes that Iraq will become a democratic secular state with tolerance for religious differences have received a boost with the emergence of 38-year-old Ammar Hakim at the head of one of the largest Shia movements.
Equally important, the man who will lead the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) into parliamentary elections in three months says he is determined that Iraq should not fall under undue influence from its Shi'ite brethren in neighboring Iran.
"It is not logical Iraq would throw itself in the laps of anyone," said Mr. Hakim, who took charge of the dominating political faction after the death of his father in September. "We are not agents of anyone."
In one of his first interviews with an American newspaper, Mr. Hakim spoke of the delicate balance between civilian rule and respect for religious authority laid out in Iraq's constitution.
"Iraq is run as a civilian country but respects the Islamic identity of the country," he said, drawing a contrast with the formalized rule of religious leaders in Iran. He also said that the Shi'ite majority coalition in parliament was "proud of Iraq's Arab heritage" and could be a bridge between predominantly Sunni Muslim Arab states and Shi'ite Iran.'