BAGHDAD – The son of one Iraq's most senior statesmen on Saturday called for more dialogue between the United States and Iran as Shiites took their turn celebrating the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
Ammar al-Hakim made his appeal during a sermon he delivered in place of his ailing father, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, leader of Iraq's largest Shiite party, the Supreme Islamic Iraq Council.
The senior al-Hakim attended the prayer service in southeastern Baghdad and was greeted by well-wishers afterward, three days after returning home from his last round of chemotherapy in Iran. He was diagnosed last May with lung cancer following tests in a Texas hospital, but chose to be treated in Iran to be near his family.
Ammar al-Hakim appealed for unity among all Iraqis and a faster build up of the national security forces that could assume full responsibility from U.S. troops in the country.
"We will do our best not to allow a permanent (foreign) military base on our land," al-Hakim told hundreds of supporters gathered outside the party's headquarters in Baghdad's Jadriyah district.
Saturday marked the start of the Eid al-Fitr holiday that ends Ramadan for Iraq's majority Shiites. Sunnis began celebrating on Friday.
Al-Hakim's comments came a day after a former chief of U.S.-led forces, retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, said the American mission in Iraq was a "nightmare with no end in sight" because of political and military misjudgments after the fall of Saddam Hussein.
Sanchez commanded coalition troops for a year beginning June 2003. Speaking Friday in Arlington, Virginia, he criticized current U.S. military strategies — including the deployment of 30,000 additional forces earlier this year — as a "desperate attempt" to make up for years of misguided policies.
Al-Hakim insisted Iraqis will prevail.
"We are still on the march to achieve complete sovereignty of Iraq and this will be accomplished," he said.
In the sermon, al-Hakim also urged the region's Arab countries to support the political process in Iraq by opening diplomatic missions here and he appealed on "other nearby Islamic countries" — a reference to Iran — to take a stand that would back Iraq and its people.
Iraq's Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has long played a delicate balancing act in the bitter rivalry between Washington and Tehran, putting off Iranian calls for a U.S. troop pullout while balking at U.S. pressure to take a tougher line against Tehran.
"We call for positive dialogue between America and Iran," al-Hakim said.
The United States accuses Iran of arming Shiite militias and supplying them with sophisticated explosive devices used to attack U.S. troops in Iraq. Iran denies the charges.
In violence Saturday, the police commander in the northern city of Kirkuk escaped an assassination attempt, although the roadside bomb targeting his convoy killed one of his guards and wounded three others, along with one bystander, police Col. Burhan Tayeb said.