BAGHDAD, Iraq—The Shiite leader of Iraq's largest political party said Friday that the death of terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi won't end terrorism or tensions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. He then offered a vision of Iraq's security problems that's likely to worry some Sunnis.
In a rare interview, Abdel Aziz al Hakim, the president of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, said that now that Zarqawi is dead, the government's next priority must be to rid the country's security forces of Saddam Hussein loyalists and former members of Saddam's Baath party.
Al-Hakim didn't say how many of Saddam's followers he thought were in the government. But the comments by the country's top Shiite politician seemed to augur more conflict with the Sunni minority, many of whom claim they're unfairly labeled as members of Saddam's party or, worse, as terrorists destabilizing the country.
At the same time, al-Hakim downplayed concerns that the Ministry of Interior has been overrun by Shiite-dominated militias that brutalize Sunnis. He said he didn't believe that militias should be disarmed, but that they should be incorporated into the government.
"All weapons should be under government control," al-Hakim said.
Al-Hakim often is described as one of the most powerful men in Iraq and a chief architect in the formation of the new government. Indeed, during recent rancor over who should lead the Interior Ministry, which oversees the police, al-Hakim single-handedly blocked the candidate Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki favored, those who observed the process said.
The parliament finally agreed Thursday on an alternative candidate, Jawad al-Bolani, a man al-Hakim endorsed. Al-Hakim called al-Bolani, a member of a small Shiite party, an independent who'll soften militias' loyalties to their parties and eventually make them loyal to the state.
Al-Hakim rarely grants interviews. On Friday, the revered sheik wore a black turban, which is traditionally donned by descendents of the prophet Muhammad, in his Baghdad home. Earlier in the day, police had found a roadside bomb not far away.
Al-Hakim looked relieved as he discussed al-Zarqawi's death, accusing him of genocide. Al-Zarqawi frequently called for killing Shiites, including women and children, and is blamed by many for a 2003 bombing in Najaf that killed al-Hakim's brother and 150 others.
But his demeanor was restrained and he seemed more focused on what would come next. He said the Iraqi security forces must develop better intelligence to take advantage of the momentum spurred by al-Zarqawi's death. He voiced confidence that the new government could stop the surge in sectarian violence.
Despite his comments about Saddam supporters in the government, al-Hakim said the government must be inclusive to succeed.
"We don't want to disenfranchise any side. All should take part in the government and building the new Iraq," he said.
(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.