Shi'ite cleric Abdul Aziz al-Hakim heads the Shi'ite SCIRI party (Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq) and he is the main rival of powerful Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. After spending 20 years in Iran leading the 10,000-man Badr Corps, an anti-Saddam militia, Hakim and his older brother, Ayatollah Muhammad Baqr al-Hakim, ended their exile after Saddam's fall in 2003. Hakim's brother was considered by many to be Iraq's new leader. But three months after the Hakims' return, Sunni insurgents detonated a car bomb outside the holy Shi'ite shrine in Najaf, killing his brother. The Shi'a never forgot.
Hakim's Shi'ite party won a majority in parliament in the January 2005 elections and he quickly placed party members and Badr militiamen in top government posts. He selected one of his party's top deputies, Bayan Jabr, to head up the Ministry of Interior. Jabr started restaffing the ministry's commando units, largely Sunni, with Badr Corps commanders. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted Nov. 15, 2006, and is translated from Arabic. Editor's Note: FRONTLINE previously interviewed Hakim in December 2003.
What was the necessity of the transition of the military Badr Brigade to the civil Badr Organization?
In the name of Allah, the most gracious, the most merciful, there was a need to resist the Saddamist regime through military means. After that, in 2003, the Saddamist regime fell, so we found no reason for the military force to exist anymore, as we don't have anyone to confront now. But instead we need to build an institutional state. So we changed the brigade to a civil organization and agreed to the law that was to incorporate militias [into security forces].
What support does the Badr Organization receive from Iran?
Different kinds of support. The Islamic republic was the only state that agreed to receive Iraqis, and since it entered war with Iraq, the Iraqis had the freedom to move and operate, whether through the military or through politics and the media, and it was for all Iraqis: Kurds, Shi'a Arab, Sunni Arab, Turkmen and Christians. The Islamic Republic [of] Iran supported them all in different ways: military, funding, armament and so forth.
Let's be specific about the support by Iran to the Supreme Council [for] Islamic Revolution in Iraq. What kind of support, current support, [is there] for your political organization or Badr?
In general, it is moral and political support, ... general political support.
Any financial support?
No. From the Iranian government, no.
During 2004, you were involved in negotiations with the U.S.-led occupation government in Iraq [over the disbanding of the Badr Corps (CPA Order 91)]. What conclusions did you reach with those negotiations?
To be honest, the problem still exists now. In our case, the incorporation law was not implemented. It was implemented with other groups, but sadly it was not implemented appropriately with us, and this situation still exists.
But you agreed to disband the militia as a result of those negotiations. Is that correct?
Not correct. The decision to turn the brigade into a civil organization was ours. My late brother, the martyr Sayyid Muhammad Baqr al-Hakim, was the one who announced after he returned to Iraq that Badr would turn into a civil or political organization. This was before the incorporation law. So this was our vision that there was no more need for arms.
Another issue, when we entered negotiations for the incorporation law, was our desire to reward those brothers for the years they spent fighting the regime. So the transition was not a result of the negotiations. ...
There was a missed opportunity to disband the militias. There was an agreement to disband the Badr Organization, and it failed. Is that true?
I think there was a lack of follow-up to implement the law, so there was a missed opportunity to make use of the large number of loyalists who fought the regime and who had good combat and security experience as well as faith in the change that took place in Iraq. So we missed this opportunity, and to this day the law has not been implemented.
What role did you play in the selection of Bayan Jabr as minister of interior after the elections of 2005?
I knew Bayan Jabr and his capabilities, courage, firmness and faith in the new Iraq, so he was a strong candidate for the interior minister position. I suggested his name as one of the candidates to hold the position.
By the summer of 2005, there were accusations that the MOI's [Ministry of Interior] police forces are targeting Sunnis under Bayan Jabr's directions. What do you say to these accusations?
I am not informed about all the details, but in general I think that even if these accusations were true, then Bayan Jabr has nothing to do with the matter. Bayan Jabr is from a well-known Iraqi family and is a renowned personality with a history of struggle against the dictatorial regime and one who believes in building institutions.
Most of the over 13,000 policemen were chosen by the former government, and they were involved in criminal activities even before Jabr took the position. One incident was the murder of three Badr supporters inside a detention camp, and their funeral was made public, so it was a known issue. It's very possible that some individuals [in the police] were acting alone, and Bayan Jabr was strongly determined to purge the Interior Ministry [of] such elements, but he faced opposition from certain parties, especially from foreign forces.
But there were other incidents, such as the Jadiriyah bunker incident, that led to charges that Badr militiamen had infiltrated the police forces. What do you say to these accusations that Badr militiamen had infiltrated the Interior Ministry and were using it as a platform to target Sunnis?
That is not correct. The investigations did not prove that this was the case. These accusations were made as a political issue, not as a security or legal issue. …
... Do you deny that the police forces became a sectarian force?
As police, yes. I strongly deny it in regard to the whole force. But inside the force there are Baathists, criminals, bad elements and sectarian elements. That is possible.
So when the Americans tell us that the national police force has become dominated by sectarian forces and are infiltrated by former Badr officers, are you saying that they are wrong?
There are Baathists in the Iraqi police. The police force was not built at the time when Bayan Jabr took the position, but before that, as I've said. The majority of the police force was made of former policemen, and the former ministry recruited them. Yes, Bayan Jabr also included some elements in order to achieve balance. We also think the Badrists are the most loyal and law-abiding citizens. They struggled for their just cause and they fought the regime. They dedicated their lives for the people's cause. So if they take positions today, it is natural that they would be the best elements in their dealings with the people.
Are you at war with the Wahhabi Sunnis?
We are at war with the Takfiris, who are a small part of Wahhabis.
Editor's Note: "Takfiri" refers to fundamentalist Muslims who declare Muslims with other beliefs to be infidels.
Who started this war?
They [Sunnis] waged this war. They started their operations with Bloody Friday in September 2003, when they killed my brother, the martyr Sayyid Muhammad Baqr al-Hakim, in an operation that killed and maimed hundreds of people. And they continue their operations to this day. They have issued fatwas and regulations on killing the Shi'a, and they stood against all the Iraqi people after that. Bin Laden also issued fatwas against the Shi'a and all the Iraqi people.
First, as an addendum to the former question, there is no Shi'ite cleric or any Shi'ite political organization that permitted the killing of Sunnis, Wahhabis or anyone. This was a one-sided war. Second, in regard to the question, we are not a party in the dispute. We think the state should take its responsibility; that state forces and institutions should be built and that they should be moving in this direction. Badr does not carry arms and is not fighting. Yes, there are Badr elements in the Interior Ministry, taking orders from the ministry and their superiors. But outside this force, there are no operations by Badr. It is not a military organization, as it used to be in the past.
Your colleague, [head of the Badr Brigade] Hadi al-Amiri, said that paramilitary groups would persist until Iraqi security forces were able to protect Iraqi citizens from terrorists. I assume that he meant that Shi'a paramilitary groups would continue to exist in self-defense.
I am not sure if this opinion was accurately reported. In general, we both think that security is the responsibility of the state and state institutions. We have suggestions that we sometimes make through official channels, such as the suggestion of popular committees, neighborhood watch teams, or the incorporation of militias to benefit from elements that have fought the regime, in addition to other suggestions that we make in public. As to what Hadi al-Amiri was referring to in his statement, I do not know, but you can ask him.
Can you really afford to give security responsibility to governmental forces when they are weak?
We do not have another alternative. Americans only agree to this choice. ... This question was posed to the Iraqi people. The government and MNF [Multi-National Force] should answer it because they are primarily responsible for security in Iraq.
You were also engaged in battles with [radical Shi'ite cleric] Moqtada al-Sadr's forces. What is the nature of this battle?
There was no battle. There was an aggression by some elements that could be considered part of the Mahdi Army against a few of our offices, but there was no battle.
First, this is not a division of Iraq, and it is not a Shi'ite federal region. The Shi'a, as you know, are all over Iraq, from Fao to Suleimaniya, from Baqubah to Fallujah, and there are Shi'a even in the western areas. So the Shi'a are not in any specific region.
Secondly, Iraq, according to the constitution that the Iraqi people voted on, is a federal Iraq made of regions. There is a Kurdistan region currently, and other regions should be formed in order to create balance. If not, then this would lead to conflict. We insisted that legislation should be introduced to explain how governorates are turned into regions, and that was finally endorsed by parliament a month ago.
We suggested a central and southern region made of nine governorates that would be able to confront internal and external challenges, that would be able to invest the riches it contains for the benefit of Iraq, that would be able to preserve the unity of Iraq, and that would be able to defend itself. We suggested this as political powers, but it is the people who will decide through their votes. We also suggested the formation of the Baghdad region soon, according to the constitution. We encouraged our Sunni brothers to move and form their own regions in order to create a state of balance in Iraq so that we would all benefit from the formation of regions.
You recently met with former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker. He is recommending that the problems in Iraq cannot be solved without engaging Syria and Iran. Did you have discussions over this, and do you believe he is correct?
We think that all neighboring countries have an influence, whether positive or negative, on the situation in Iraq, in the past, the present and in the future. As a result, they should all participate in preserving security in Iraq.
We suggested a security system for the whole region, since terrorism is not restricted to a certain area, and even though it is concentrated now in Iraq, it could spread to other countries, as we always hear about terrorist operations in Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and in other countries.
So all the mentioned countries have an influence, and also Turkey has an influence. Some preparations and meetings are already taking place, but it is clear that we need stronger relations in order to have progress.