Top Iraqi Shiite leader in Iran for medical tests

TEHRAN (AFP) — One of Iraq’s most powerful Shiite leaders, Abdel Aziz Hakim, said on Monday he was in Iran for medical tests on a “swelling” after undergoing similar treatment in the United States.

“The results of all tests show that there is limited swelling and inflammation,” said Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), in comments broadcast on Iran’s Arabic language channel Al Alam. “Approriate medical treatment for this illness was prescribed.

“Therefore, I have come to the Islamic Republic of Iran as this is Iraq’s neighbour. I wanted to be close to the Iraqi nation and they have adequate facilities for medical treatment,” he said.

In a separate message directed at Iraqis that was broadcast on state television, Hakim promised to return to Iraq “at the earliest opportunity”.

“I will return to my daily tasks of serving you and realising the sacred goals of building a new Iraqi and confronting the terrorist groups that continue to try to destroy Iraq and kill Iraqis,” he said.

An official close to Hakim had earlier said in Baghdad that the Shiite leader was in Iran, an overwhelmingly Shiite country, for treatment on a tumour and breathing troubles.

“It is not serious and requires no worry,” added Hamid Muala Saadi, head of the culture and media office at SIIC. “He needed some treatment to cure the problem and these treatments are available in Tehran.” Hakim said he would start medical treatment in the coming days after the completion of his tests. He did not give any further details on his condition or how long he intended to stay in Iran.

Hakim’s SIIC, which until a week ago was known as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), was founded in Iran in 1982 as an opposition movement in exile.

The party returned to Iraq in the aftermath of the US invasion of March 2003 and had since become one of the pillars of the ruling coalition government.

On Saturday, the Washington Post, citing unnamed US officials, reported that 57-year-old Hakim was in the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Centre in Houston to see lung cancer specialists.

Despite SIIC’s close Iranian ties, Hakim — a senior Shiite cleric — has tried to build bridges with the United States, and last year met President George W. Bush in the White House.

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