BAGHDAD – The son of the late leader of Iraq's largest Shiite political party was chosen Monday to take the reins of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, a party official said.
The choice of Ammar al-Hakim to succeed his father, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, was widely expected. But there have been questions whether the relatively inexperienced son can hold the organization together during a politically sensitive time in Iraq.
The late al-Hakim has been a symbol to the Shiite political majority of the victory over Saddam Hussein's Sunni-led regime, although the party did poorly in many parts of the south in local elections earlier this year.
Party leaders have said they would stand behind the younger al-Hakim, who in practice took charge of the party after his father withdrew after being diagnosed with lung cancer in May 2007. The elder al-Hakim died last week in neighboring Iran, where he was undergoing treatment.
The main body of the SIIC approved the decision, the party official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information for the council. The approval was also announced on the party's al-Forat television station.
The party's Shura Council was expected to sign off on it Tuesday.
The passing of the party's torch follows instructions the late al-Hakim made clear in his will, the official also said. The will was read during his burial in the southern holy city of Najaf on Saturday.
Iraq upcoming parliament elections in January are expected to see a stiff competition over the Shiite vote because of a split among Shiite parties.
SIIC's losses earlier this year in the vote in the south were seen as a sign that some Shiites were turning away from religious parties. They also reflected discontent over the party's failure to deliver its promises in local government.
Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, head of the Shiite Dawa party, had been the late al-Hakim's ally in the Shiite coalition that dominated Iraq's government since the first post-Saddam parliament elections in 2005.
But the coalition has split, with al-Maliki's Dawa on one side and a smaller grouping of Shiite parties led by SIIC on the other.
During al-Hakim's funeral, his son made a thinly veiled call to al-Maliki's party to join the alliance, although the prime minister has declined because of differences over the allocation of power and a desire to reach out to more prominent Sunnis and Kurds.