Following his father’s death and his appointment as the new leader of Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq or ISCI, Ammar al-Hakim, has made several changes to his party’s policy.
During a press conference held in Amman on 18 November, al-Hakim called for the engagement of the Baathists in the political process “to build the country with the exception of those involved in killing Iraqi people”, who he distinguished as “Saddamists”. Hakim said “All parties have the right to participate in the political process, and to get involved in the project of national reconciliation, so as the political process continues. We do not want to exclude any Iraqis”. He added that the “Baathists’ dossier should be closed. It is not reasonable to keep it open forever. There should be a distinction between Baathists and Saddamists”, Hakim claimed, adding that “Saddamists are those who have got blood on their hands and are suspects of being behind the bombings that took place recently in Baghdad”.
In the meantime, Ali al-Lami, the head of the “Accountability and Justice Commission”, previously known as the “De-Baathification Commission”, said the commission was investigating the rejection of a number of electoral lists because their leaders might have been affected by the commission’s law which prohibits Baathists from participating in parliamentary elections under Article 7 of Iraqi Constitution.
The Islamic Dawa Party led by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki described al-Hakim’s statement as “being in line with the government’s policy”. MP Abdul Hadi al-Hassani of the Iraq National Alliance added that “Baath as a political party has been banned by Iraqi constitution. Baathists who were not involved in crimes against Iraqi people have the right to participate in the political process.”
A spokesman for the ISCI, Rida Jawad Taqi said the “ISCI believes in the national reconciliation and what al-Hakim said did not signal a change in the party’s stand toward Baath Party as he just wanted to clarify ISCI’s position on the banned party.” He added “ISCI does not consider all the elements of Baath murders and it has distinguished those whose hands are stained with blood of Iraqi people and those who were forced to join the ranks of Baath without having any role in crimes committed by the party.”
Ayad Allawi’s Iraqi List party’s spokesman, MP Jamal al-Batikh, said “the new statement of ISCI’s leader is a reflection of a positive change in ISCI’s policy.”
By contrast, Al-Tawafuq, which represents Sunni Arabs, has not shown great enthusiasm. MP Rajaa Hamdun of Al-Tawafuq said that the statement was not new but it was important if was applied on the ground. She added that the statement might be meant to court Ayad Allawi’s new National Alliance.
The first change Ammar al-Hakim made was related to the issue of Kirkuk which Kurds want to annex to their semi-independent Kurdistan region. In a public statement, al-Hakim stressed the Iraqi identity of Kirkuk as “it is a multi-ethno/sectarian microcosm of Iraq”. The ISCI of his father was very much in favour of supporting Kurdish interests, including their objections to Article 23 of Iraqi Constitution which stresses dealing with Kirkuk as a special case in order to prevent Kurdish annexation. The allegiance of the ISCI with Kurdish interests during the elder al-Hakim’s life was such that its representatives walked out of parliament in solidarity with the Kurdistan Alliance. ISCI’s new stance on the issue is widely interpreted as a result of ISCI’s fierce electoral competition with Al-Maliki’s electoral list, the State of Law, on the votes of Arabs and Turkomans in Kirkuk and throughout Iraq. ISCI has realised that abandoning some of its old political principles is necessary to stand a chance of winning the general election due early next year.
Approaching Baathists is not the only change which Ammar al-Hakim has made since he succeeded his late father a few months ago. Rumours abound that that ISCI’s demand for federal state in central and south Iraq, a demand unrelentingly defended during the elder al-Hakim’s life, might be abandoned. In addition, in his recent statements, Ammar has stressed that “Iraq is part of Arab and Islamic world”, an unheard of admission from this Persian and Shia influenced party.
Observes interpret the new changes embraced by ISCI’s leader, Ammar al-Hakim, as resulting from the influence of ISCI’s leaders who could not find the opportunity, or did not dare ask, for these changes to be made under al-Hakim, senior. The new stance of the ISCI has also been interpreted as mere electoral manoeuvring in the run up to the next general elections due early 2010. US government pressure on ISCI to bring about political reconciliation, including with Baath Party members, has also been held responsible for the new changes embraced by ISCI under Ammar al-Hakim’s leadership.
Whether ISCI’s new stance will be implemented, or whether it is little more than empty gestures, is yet to be seen. Iraqi politics has always been unpredictable, all the more so when competition is so fierce in the run up to the 2010 elections.