In the spring of 2006 when hardly anyone outside of Baghdad (including me) had even heard of a man named 'Jawad' al-Maliki the SCIRI leader made a strong statement to his officials. It was a private meeting and Hakim intended to make sure no one left the room with even a shred of doubt of his influence, power and status in Iraq. In the typical swagger that was, at the time, epidemic in the party Hakim said "Who is Maliki? I told Ja'fari that the road in front of him was closed. He had no other option but to step down. Now if I want to I can order Maliki to step down and make Abdul Mehdi the Prime Minister"
Adel Abdul Mehdi was not present when those words were spoken but no one else in the room had even raised an eye-brow. This was the most powerful politician in Iraq, of course he could change the Prime Minister and President if he but said the words.
One of the main reasons the election results came as such a shock to the SIIC politicians was because everyone even remotely affiliated with the party believed they were invincible. And why would they think otherwise?
They had a leader who has a history of opposition in Iraq, comes from one of the most powerful Shia religious families in the country, lost dozens of family members in the struggle against Saddam, has more money than anyone can count and finally but not least commands his own private army. Each one of these factors in itself is enough for someone in Iraq to be important.
History in our culture is very important. It matters who your father, brother, uncle and grandfather is. In official documents the name of a person consists of his name, his father's name, and his grandfather's name. Religious lineage is even more important. Hakim is the son of a Grand Ayatollah. If your famous family happens to be a famous religious family, that is an extra bonus point.
Martyrdom in Iraq is seen as a privilege and honour. If someone's father or son is martyred he or she will have a label for life; "the son of the martyr/the mother of the martyr". Hakim not only had dozens of family members (including 6 brothers) executed by Saddam but he had just recently lost his last remaining brother in a terrorist attack on the shrine in Najaf. Money and guns...well that's a no-brainer. Suffice to say that when Hakim spoke, everyone listened.
Anyone going through the check-list could easily tell that Hakim beats Maliki where it matters. Except of course in something which is a new phenomenon in Iraq. The ballot.
Although SIIC feels defeated and let down by the people they also feel betrayed by Maliki. The only consistent thing I have heard from SIIC so far is the sense of betrayal. They believe it was Hakim who made Maliki into what he is today. Without Hakims support and defence Maliki would have just been another Da'wa member. Maybe one day a Minister. Or so they say.
It is not just the ascent to power that they argue was down to Hakim and SIIC, but also his stay in power. Hakim gave Maliki his unconditional support in the fight against the Sadrists in 2008. Ex-Badr militiamen played a role in helping the IA tear apart the Mehdi Army. Maliki should owe his very existence and survival to Hakim. Although these claims are far fetched (the Sunnis and Kurds played the biggest hand in making sure Ja'fari stood down and Hakim was not the only supporter of Maliki in his war with Sadr) the result remains the same. Hakim helps Maliki defeat Sadr. Maliki trumps Hakim in the elections. Maliki allies with Sadr. Hakim, who is already isolated, now feels betrayed.
Now it seems SIIC officials actually care about what the people want. One angry official told me "And what about the people of Basra and Baghdad? They voted for Maliki not because Da'wa had a better manifesto than us, but because Maliki fought against Sadr. Their vote was a vote against Moqtada, so how can Maliki now ally himself with them?" and after a short pull on his cigarette added "What would the people say?"
At best, SIIC will now take a back seat, distance themselves from Maliki, pray the next provincial governments are not better than the previous ones and hope to come back in 4 years time with an election campaign that revolves around the failure and incompetence of the local authorities. At worst, they will make sure Maliki fails.