| GEO World|
| Iraq leader Abdelaziz Hakim dies at 59|
| Updated at: 0753 PST, Thursday, August 27, 2009|
BAGHDAD: The death of political and religious leader Abdelaziz Hakim on Wednesday heralded a new era of uncertainty in Iraq's Shiite Muslim politics as the country heads toward national elections early next year.
Hakim, who headed the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, died in a Tehran hospital after a long battle with lung cancer. He was 59.
The Shiite leader was a towering figure in the Iraqi political landscape after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. He led a coalition of Shiite parties to victory in the 2005 elections while juggling his close relationships with both Washington and Tehran.
Though his influence had waned in the two years since his cancer was diagnosed, he continued to play an active role in politics almost to the end. But his death probably will further diminish the standing of his political movement, opening the door to potential Shiite challengers, analysts said.
"The decline of the Supreme Council is something that had been going on for a while, and this confirms the decline," said Reidar Visser, research fellow at the Norwegian Institute for International Affairs and editor of the Iraq website.
The most probable candidate to succeed Hakim is his son Ammar, who at 38 is considered young for political leadership in Iraq and is unlikely to immediately enjoy the success his father did. The council's members will meet to choose a successor, spokesman Ridha Jawad Taqi said.
Abdelaziz Hakim's death coincides with a period of frenetic political negotiations before the January elections, and came just two days after Shiite leaders launched a revamped version of the coalition he headed in the last polling.
The Supreme Council was at the launch, but its leaders did not play as prominent a role as Hakim had at the founding of the coalition in 2004.
The absence of Hakim will probably lead to a power struggle between the dominant council and the Shiite alliance's other major faction, which is loyal to cleric Muqtada Sadr, just as the coalition is gearing up to compete for votes, Visser said.