Prominent Iraqi opposition leader returns home

Published May 10th, 2003 - 02:00 GMT

The leader of the largest Iraqi Shiite Muslim group opposed to Saddam Hussein returned to Iraq on Saturday after two decades in exile.  


Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution of Iraq, rolled across the Iranian frontier into Iraq at a desert border crossing that has been a no-man's land for years.  



He had been in exile in Iran and under protection of its Shiite religious leaders since 1980.  


About 2,000 supporters, including some clerics, gathered through the morning with the green flags of Islam and portraits of al-Hakim. When he crossed the border midmorning, the swarmed his car, climbed upon it and chanted: "Yes, yes, Islam! Yes, yes, Hakim!"  


Al-Hakim's group, known as SCIRI, wants Iraq's future to be governed by Islamic law. He has said in recent days that SCIRI seeks to "realize the will of the Iraqi people," rebuild the country and establish good relationships with neighbors.  


Al-Hakim, also known as Baqir, remained in Iran during the weeks after the war last month. His brother, Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, who commands the group's armed wing, returned to Iraq in advance to pave the way for the ayatollah's return.  


Al-Hakim's first stop will be the southern Iraqi city of Basra, a Shiite stronghold. He is also expected to go to Najaf.  


SCIRI opposes a U.S. administration in Iraq but has close ties with the rest of the U.S.-backed opposition, including the Kurds and the London-based Iraqi National Congress.  


The council's military wing, the Badr Brigade, which the group claims has several thousand fighters, has operated secretly for years in Iraq against Saddam's rule. (

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