An influential Iraqi Shi'ite leader says Tuesday, Islam holds great potential for the future of Iraq. VOA's Sean Maroney reports from Washington.

Iraqi Shi'ite leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim said Islam allows for political freedoms that are essential for Iraq - a country still adjusting from the regime of former dictator Saddam Hussein.

"Man is free to choose what he wants, to live whenever he likes, to adopt any political system, to speak his opinion even though this opinion might contradict that of the ruler," said Abdul Aziz al-Hakim.

Hakim heads the Iraqi Shi'ite faction known as the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution. This group holds a large block of seats in the Iraqi parliament.

Speaking at Catholic University, Hakim delivered a lecture on Shi'ite Islamic freedoms and the future of Iraq. He said Islam's political freedoms come with an important responsibility.

"It believes in the freedom of mankind to take any position with regard to the public issues as long as this does not violate the public interests," he said.

He said people are given wide freedoms as long as they do not threaten to destroy society or promote fighting or corruption.

Hakim voiced his regret that some groups in his country and elsewhere are using Islam in order to, what he calls, "cover up their crimes."

"The tragedies that we see in Iraq today are because of those who misunderstood Islam and harmed Islam by they own actions and crimes against Islam," said Abdul Aziz al-Hakim.

He added that some of these groups, which kill Muslims and non-Muslims alike, have their own political agenda.

"Because they lost the power - which they enjoyed during Saddam - and now trying to regain this power through force, killing and terror," he said.

Hakim has been in Washington for briefings with top U.S. officials at the invitation of the White House. On Monday, he sat down with President Bush and said peace and stability in Iraq is in the hands of the Iraqi people.