Leading Iraqi Shiite cleric Abdel Aziz al-Hakim has died of lung cancer at a hospital in the Iranian capital of Tehran. His death comes just two days after the foundation of the Iraqi National Alliance, a broad Shiite coalition he helped set up.
AFP- The leader of Iraq's largest Shiite party, Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, died on Wednesday in a Tehran hospital after a long battle with lung cancer, five months ahead of key parliamentary elections in Iraq.
"He died a few minutes ago after battling cancer for 28 months," his son Mohsen Hakim told AFP. He and his brother Ammar were at their father's bedside.
Iranian state television quoted a doctor as saying he died at 1010 GMT.
"The passing away of Mr. Hakim is a big loss to the Iraqi people and all those who love Iraq," son Ammar Hakim told AFP. "He was a leader and had special characteristics which made him a favourite of the people."
Hakim, who died at the age of 60, is due to be buried in Iraq where Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki paid tribute to him, saying his death came at a critical stage for the country.
A cleric who helped establish an opposition movement in exile in Iran in 1982 to battle Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated regime, Hakim returned to Iraq after the US-led invasion of 2003.
His Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC) swept Shiite areas in the first provincial elections after the invasion, but in new elections this January the party suffered major losses to the rival list of Maliki.
"We have known Hakim for his knowledge, patience and struggle against the regime of dictatorship" of executed leader Saddam Hussein, Maliki said in a statement in which he expressed his "condolences to the Iraqi people."
"Hakim, may his soul rest in peace, was a brother and strong supporter during the struggle against the former regime and a cornerstone in the process of building a new Iraq.
"His passing at this critical stage... is a great loss for Iraq."
Mohsen Hakim told Iran's Fars news agency that his father's body "will be transferred to Najaf and the details of the mourning ceremony will be announced in due course."
Najaf is a shrine city in central Iraq where Shiites from around the world are traditionally brought for burial.
Iran's ISNA news agency said mourners will hold a funeral procession on Thursday at 9:00 am (0430 GMT) from Vali Asr Square in central Tehran to the Iraqi embassy.
Hakim, formerly a heavy smoker, was admitted to hospital on Saturday after he developed a "medical complication," Mohsen Hakim said.
The cleric, who had been in Tehran for treatment for more than four months, had undergone frequent medical check-ups in the Iranian capital in the past and even visited the United States to see lung cancer specialists.
"Mr Hakim died in the hospital at 2:40 pm (1010 GMT)," Iranian state television quoted the head of the medical team treating him at the Masih Daneshvari hospital as saying.
"The advanced stage of cancer had damaged his liver, brain and bones and because of that he died," said the doctor, identified only by his last name Masjidi.
A scion of one of the traditional leading families among Iraq's Shiite majority, Hakim took over the leadership of his party in August 2003 after his brother Ayatollah Mohammed Baqr al-Hakim was assassinated in Najaf.
He had previously served as deputy leader and head of the party's Badr Brigades military wing.
Their father, Grand Ayatollah Mohsen al-Hakim, was one of Shiite Islam's top spiritual leaders between 1955 and 1970.
But the family has had to contend not only with the rising influence among poorer Shiites of the radical movement of anti-US cleric Moqtada al-Sadr but also with Maliki's increasing power.
Hakim's death came just days after Maliki confirmed he was breaking his alliance with the SIIC under which he fought the last parliamentary elections in 2005 and will go it alone in January's polls.
The decision leaves the SIIC facing an uphill struggle to retain its power at the political centre contesting the elections with its remaining Shiite allies in a new National Iraqi Alliance.
Asked whether he planned to take over the party leadership from his father, Ammar Hakim told AFP: "That is something for the central council of SIIC to decide. It will meet and decide on this.
"I have no intention of nominating myself, but if I am asked to, then I will accept the council's decision."
Iran's ambassador in Baghdad, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, paid tribute to Hakim's political role, including in brokering the formation of the new Shiite bloc.
"Despite all the health problems, he never stopped his efforts... to serve the Iraqi people and two days ago a national coalition in Iraq was announced and he was one of the main planners of it," Kazemi Qomi told ISNA.
Date created : 2009-08-26