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Lack of trust key to Iraqi woes

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A lack of trust among Iraqi politicians is a key factor complicating efforts to reach a broad range of agreements aimed at solving many of Iraq’s problems, a young Shi’ite leader said.

Ammar al-Hakim, son of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, said the only way to overcome such a crisis was through dialogue.

The younger Hakim, 36, is running SIIC while his father receives treatment in Iran for lung cancer.

The council, a powerful Islamist organisation, is one of the key members of Iraq’s ruling Shi’ite Alliance.

“(I) have noticed a trust problem which overshadows a lot of issues. If we could overcome this trust problem we would have solved lots and lots of problems,” he told Reuters in a rare interview on Thursday at the SIIC headquarters in Baghdad.

“I was watching when I attend these meetings ... how as soon as someone makes a proposal, another immediately takes preliminary stands (against it) based not on evaluating the proposal but rather based on the intentions of whoever made it, although after discussions positions begin to change gradually.”

Many Iraqi politicians admit in private that the lack of trust among Shi’ite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish politicians stands in the way of reaching agreements but few say so in public.

“If we manage to overcome this trust problem and open up to each other and understand each other’s concerns, we would find we have a lot in common,” said Hakim.

Hakim heads a cultural association and did not play a direct role in politics until he was chosen by SIIC to lead it until his father recovered. He said he was more comfortable dealing with cultural issues, such as attending lectures and ceremonies and talking to people.


But he does seem to be promising change.

At a meal at the council’s headquarters in Baghdad to break the fast during Ramadan, he invited journalists to attend and did not object to female reporters not wearing a scarf. On most other occasions, female visitors would be asked to wear a veil.

Hakim is popular among the young generation of Iraqis and is regarded as a tolerant leader.

He was trained by his uncle Mohammed Baqer al-Hakim, who was killed in a bombing in Najaf in 2003 shortly after he arrived back in Iraq from exile following the toppling of Saddam Hussein.

Outside interference was another factor hurting Iraq, Hakim said.

“Maybe some agendas from outside, which side with this or that, is a reason for the deepening of these problems,” he said without elaborating.

Hakim echoed the view within SIIC that federalism was a good solution for Iraq’s problems, allowing fair competition in the provinces that would allow Iraq’s people to be better served.

He said by forming regions, there would be less competition in Baghdad and therefore less tension over jobs.

“When the central government has very wide authority and it controls everything, therefore everybody wants to ensure their rights in the central government,” said Hakim, who rejects the idea of a specific Shi’ite or Sunni region.

“Last year, the parliament froze forming regions for a year and a half. So now one year has passed and we still have six months in which serious work needs to be done to prepare the ground for people to have their say and ... begin forming regions within the timetable we have,” he said.

Iraq’s constitution describes Iraq as a republican, parliamentarian, democratic and federal state but it does not define specifically the degree or nature of the federalism that Kurds and some Shi’ites are seeking in parts of the country.

Sunni Arabs fiercely opposed federalism and worry that it could lead to the country’s partition.