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Late Iraqi Shi'ite Party Leader's Son Succeeds Him

Ammar al-Hakim
BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- One of Iraq's main Shi'ite Muslim parties has appointed the son of its leader Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim as his successor after his death last week, averting a potentially damaging public power struggle.

Ammar al-Hakim had been groomed for some time to take over the influential Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) from his father, who died on August 26 in Tehran where he had been receiving treatment for lung cancer. The cleric was buried over the weekend in the holy Iraqi Shi'ite city of Najaf.

His death cast fresh uncertainty over Iraqi politics at a time when alliances among Iraq's majority Shi'a are shifting ahead of a parliamentary election in January.

"Voting for Ammar al-Hakim is normal because of the symbolism of his family name and the sacrifices that the family made," said ISCI lawmaker Nabil Ismail, who said on September 1 that Ammar al-Hakim had been picked by the party's advisory council.

The swift confirmation by the council of ISCI leaders that Ammar al-Hakim would take over indicated the party had managed to avoid a power struggle, at least in public, that could have weakened it before the election.

ISCI has formed a new, mostly Shi'ite alliance to compete in January's national polls without Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's smaller Dawa Party, raising questions about possible fractures among Shi'a.

ISCI was founded in Iran in exile during Iraqi Sunni leader Saddam Hussein's rule. It has close ties to Iran's rulers.

It and Maliki's Dawa Party swept to power in 2005 polls as part of a broad Shi'ite coalition, but the relationship has frayed, particularly after Maliki's allies scored victories in provincial elections this year, largely at the expense of the ISCI.