Why Ammar al-Hakim Established a New Party
In remarks aired live on Iraqi Al-Forat TV on Monday, Iraqi politicia Ammar al-Hakim declared the establishment of a new party called the National Wisdom Movement.
The new announcement poses to basic questions, the answers to which could illuminate public opinion on the reasons behind the establishment of a new party in Iraq.
The first question concerns the termination of his leadership role in the Islamic Supreme Council and the next takes into account why the National Wisdom Movement is established as a new party in the wake of Mosul liberation.
To answer the first question, one should go back to review the history of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution of Iraq (SCIRI), ever since it was founded in Iran in 1982 as umbrella to unify Iraqi opposition groups in their efforts to overthrow Saddam Hussein. In the beginning, the Council included 16 religious scholars (from Najaf and Karbala) and Iraqi politicians living in Iran. Gradually, leaders of other opposition groups joined and the number of members increased to 80.
Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi led the Council for a few years. Later, Ayatollah Mohammad Bagher Hakim took helm of the body. As differences emerged, a series of splits occurred and only a few of the former members remained. Today, some of these early members are in charge of political and other positions in Iraq.
When the Saddam Hussein government collapsed in 2003, opposition groups, including SCIRI and Ayatollah Hakim returned to Iraq. Following assassination of Mohammad-Baqer Hakim on August 29, 2003, just after Friday prayers held near Imam Ali’s holy shrine in Najaf, his brother Abdal Aziz al-Hakim began to lead the council.
During his tenure and following the establishment of the new government in Iraq, Abdal Aziz al-Hakim managed to secure 6 governor and 4 ministerial positions in the first parliamentary election. He also omitted the word ‘Revolutionary’ from the party’s title, as Saddam Hussein was gone.
The Council’s role declined when Abdal Aziz al-Hakim was diagnosed with lung cancer and as his treatment in Iran and the US was underway for three years. After his demise in 2009, the Council went on a slippery downward slope and lost its previous positions in the parliament and government in the 2009 and 2010 election. In 2010, only 16 members of the Council were voted into the parliament.
Following his death, Abdal Aziz’s senior son Ammar took charge. Given the election results mentioned above, he deeply revolutionized the Council with aim of institutionalizing its activities to build suppoort among the Iraqi youth, who formed 60 percent of the 30-million population of Iraq.
The establishment of think tanks, confidence in the youth, cadre development from among youth to invigorate the council, stronger connection with different Iraqi tribes in order to promote moderation, were among measures Ammar al-Hakim undertook, helping the Council restore its power and position.
As a result, in the 2013 election, the Council obtained remarkable positions in Basra and Kut provinces and some minor ones in Samawa and Al-Diwaniyah. The same happened in the 2014 parliamentary elections, where 31 Council members were voted in. The bloc was the second largest in the parliament and came to control three ministries as well as a department in the Commerce Ministry.
Some remaining founders of the council were unhappy with Ammar’s measures. As veteran members distanced from the leader, differences surfaced with pretexts ranging from unnecessary pivot towards youth, the necessity for founders of the council to remain in their positions, and the need to gain certain governmental posts.
Opposition continued, meetings were canceled and a bloc was formed to press Ammar against his plans. Ammar was forced to resign in the general summit, but his resignation was not approved. He accepted to continue his leadership under certain conditions, including continuation of his youth-oriented policy. However, continued opposition found its way into media outlets and the press, indicating a lack of commitment to the conditions set earlier.
Provincial councils and parliamentary election will be held simultaneously in 2018. Campaigns are costly, the economy is bad, and it takes a lot to save the current status for the Islamic Supreme Council. Add these to the issues within the Council and you can see why Ammar al-Hakim has announced the establishment of a new party.
A source who has been closely watching Iraq’s developments has said the National Wisdom Movement’s goal closely resembles those of the Islamic Supreme Council with the difference being that "they will be pursued by the younger generation, not people older than 70, who are not accepted by the society as leaders." According to the source, given the wide spectrum of Shia groups in Iraq, the likes of Islamic Dawa Party and the Sadrist movement can also join.
Following the establishment of the new party, 26 out of 31 members of the Citizen Alliance have expressed their readiness to join the Wisdom bloc.
One should wait until March 30, 2018, to see whose side is heavier, the Islamic Supreme Council or the National Wisdom Movement.
*This article was first published on IRNA in Persian.