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[casi] Senior cleric targeted - Financial Times Report

sent by Nicholas.

Senior cleric targeted in latest Iraq violence
By Gareth Smyth in Baghdad and Edward Alden in Washington
Published: August 24 2003 20:27 | Last Updated: August 24 2003 20:27

A senior Shia cleric was the target of a bombing in the central Iraqi city
of Najaf yesterday that killed three guards and wounded 10 people, the
latest in a string of attacks at the weekend that underscored the
deteriorating security situation in Iraq.

Ayatollah Mohammed Said al-Hakim, one of Iraq's most senior Shia clerics,
escaped with cuts to the neck.

Ayatollah Hakim recently told the Financial Times that the measures taken
by US-led occupation forces against supporters of the ousted regime of
Saddam Hussein were not strong enough, and called for the transfer of more
decision-making in security and other fields to Iraqis.

A spokesman for Sciri, the leading Shia Muslim political group, said last
night it had begun an investigation into the bombing, and suspected it was
the work of loyalists of the former regime.

US-led forces have a very limited presence in Najaf, which is a scholastic
city revered as the burial place of Imam Ali, son-in-law of the prophet

The bombing came on a weekend when ethnic clashes between Turkomen and
Kurds broke out in the northern city of Kirkuk, leading to several

In southern Iraq, three British soldiers died on Saturday in an attack on
their vehicle as it left their military headquarters in Basra, the mainly
Shia southern city, bringing the number of British fatalities to 10 since
president US George W. Bush declared hostilities over on May 1.

The deteriorating security situation in Iraq has raised pressure on the
Bush administration to increase troop deployments in Iraq or to move more
determinedly to persuade other governments to send forces.

Paul Bremer, who heads the US Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, said
on Fox News Sunday that a growing number of al-Qaeda affiliated terrorists
had been infiltrating Iraq from Syria and Saudi Arabia. "I suppose they
could calculate that if [they] succeed in Iraq, it will change the entire
structure of this area of the world," he said.

"It shows what the stakes are for all Americans. We've got to win this
fight here."

Joe Biden, the top Democrat on the Senate foreign relations committee, said
on NBC News that "we need more troops, we need more cops, we need more
civilian affairs people". He said the US needs to "swallow our pride" and
go back to the United Nations to seek international support.

He warned unless Mr Bush seeks greater international help, "we are going to
lose the American people's support for this undertaking". A Newsweek poll
published at the weekend indicated that US public enthusiasm for the Iraqi
campaign is waning. A slim majority of 48 to 47 per cent said the US should
withdraw from Iraq if current trends continued, while 55 per cent were
opposed to putting more US troops in Iraq. Sixty per cent also said the US
should reduce spending on Iraq.

The US has tried to shore up support both domestically and internationally
by portraying the recent attacks in Iraq as the latest and most important
battle in the global war on terrorism. Mr Bush on Friday called Iraq "one
of the major battles of the first war of the 21st century".

The Bush administration has insisted that, while it wants an increased
international presence, additional US troops are not currently needed.

General John Abizaid, who commands the US force in Iraq, has said that the
US's immediate need is for better intelligence, not more troops. But
General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, yesterday
said the administration would not oppose a request from General Abizaid.
"If he wants more troops he can have more troops," he said on NBC News.

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