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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 April, 2003, 17:47 GMT 18:47 UK
Key Shia leader returns to Iraq
Abdelaziz Hakim
Abdelaziz Hakim - his movement boycotted talks
A top Iraqi Shia opposition leader has returned to the country from Iran after 23 years in exile.

Abdelaziz Hakim, the deputy head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri), arrived in the southern Iraqi city of Kut on Wednesday morning.

Also on Wednesday, the leader of Sciri, Ayatollah Muhammad Baqr al-Hakim, who is still in Iran, called on Iraqis to gather in the town of Karbala next week for an Islamic anniversary.

The ayatollah said the Iraqis there "should demand a government that will bring liberty, independence and justice for all Iraqis under an Islamic regime".


Abdelaziz Hakim is believed to be the first Iranian-backed Shia leader to return to Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

"Abdelaziz Hakim was given a warm welcome by thousands of people in Kut," said his son, Mohsen Hakim.

Iranian television showed pictures of the deputy chief being welcomed by supporters in the city, where the majority of the population is Shia.

Shias make up two-thirds of Iraq's 26 million people.

Mohsen Hakim said his father's role would be "to restore peace and security", but gave no further details.

Sciri boycotted a meeting of Iraqi religious and political leaders that was held on Tuesday near Nasiriya to chart the nation's political future.

"The meeting was not successful because it did not represent all the Iraqi groups," Mohsen Hakim said.

Ayatollah Hakim has also pledged to return to Iraq, although no date has been announced.

The ayatollah called for Iraqis to gather in Karbala on 23 April to mark the death of Imam Hussein, grandson of the prophet Mohammad.

Imam Hussein was killed in 680AD in fighting that was the final act in the schism between Shia and Sunni Muslims that exists to this day.

The BBC's Gillian Ni Cheallaigh
"Exactly what happened is confused and disputed"

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