Page last updated at 08:20 GMT, Friday, 28 August 2009 09:20 UK

Shia leader's body flown to Iraq

The body of Shia leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim arrives in Baghdad

The body of the powerful Shia Muslim political leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, who died in Iran on Wednesday, has arrived in Iraq for burial.

PM Nouri Maliki and hundreds of officials met the coffin of Hakim, the leader of one of Iraq's most powerful Shia parties, at Baghdad airport.

The body is to be taken to the Shia shrine city of Karbala, before being buried in Najaf on Saturday.

Hakim was an important power broker and held strong ties with the US and Iran.

He died on Wednesday in Tehran, where he was being treated for lung cancer.

Hundreds gathered in the Iranian capital on Thursday for a mourning ceremony where a tribute message from Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei was read.

 al-Hakim carried through Tehran street
Born circa 1950, died 26 August 2009
Leader of Islamist Shia party Sciri, later SIIC, since 2003
Backed by Tehran, but maintaining close ties to its arch-rival Washington
Lost six of his seven brothers and 50 extended family members in resistance to Saddam Hussein

Security has been reinforced along the route of the funeral cortege in Baghdad, with many Shia followers expected to turn out to mourn him.

The BBC's Andrew North in Baghdad says that such gatherings are often targeted by bombers.

After failing to prevent recent attacks killing at least 100 people in the Iraqi capital, security forces are under pressure to show they can protect the city, our correspondent says.

Hakim opposed Saddam Hussein from exile in Iran for more than two decades, before returning to Iraq in 2003 after the US-led invasion.

He took control of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri - which later became SIIC) after his brother was assassinated in Najaf in 2003.

The party has several senior cabinet members, and its militia - the Badr Brigade - has at times wielded considerable influence in Iraq's security establishment.

Revered family

Since falling ill, Hakim had cut back his political involvement and his son Ammar gained prominence. He is expected to take over leadership of the party.

Abdul Aziz al-Hakim in January 2009
Hakim was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2007 and had chemotherapy

As heir to the leadership of one of the main anti-Saddam Hussein factions in Iraq, Abdul Aziz Hakim managed to keep good ties with both the American authorities and Iran, which strongly backed his group.

His brother and predecessor as party leader was the charismatic Ayatollah Muhammad Baqr al-Hakim, who was killed along with about 100 supporters in a massive car bombing in the city of Najaf in August 2003.

The family is revered among Iraq's largest religious community, the Shia, for its tradition of scholarship and its bouts of resistance against Saddam Hussein in its southern Iraqi stronghold.

However, the quietly-spoken Hakim was distrusted by many Sunnis who saw him as too Iranian-orientated and sectarian in his political philosophy.

In 2007, the party changed its name from Sciri - the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq - to the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council.

SIIC has been part of Iraq's ruling Shia alliance, the United Iraqi Alliance, led by the Islamic Dawa party of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki.

However, ahead of national elections in January, the SIIC announced last week that it would campaign from within a new Shia Muslim bloc.

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