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[casi] Bomb in Najaf has kills 82, including leading Shia - FT

Iraq blast kills 82, including leading Shia
Gareth Smyth in Baghdad
Published: August 29 2003 15:03 | Last Updated: August 29 2003 16:41

Financial Times

A bomb in the holy city of Najaf has killed 82 people, including ayatollah
Mohammed Baqr al-Hakim, one of Iraq's leading Shia religious and political
leaders, and injured 229 others.

The blast went off just after the end of Friday prayers near the shrine of
Imam Ali, son-in-law of the prophet Mohammed. Cars and nearby shops were
destroyed and the shrine itself was reportedly damaged.

The assassination of ayatollah Hakim came less than a week after a bomb
injured another senior cleric, ayatollah Mohammed Said Hakim, and killed
three of his bodyguards. His death will send deep shockwaves across the
Shia community internationally.

Iraqi political leaders have already pointed the finger of blame at
loyalists to the regime of Saddam Hussein.

In one of his last interviews, ayatollah Mohammed Baqr Hakim told the
Financial Times that measures taken by the US forces against Saddam
loyalists were "not very real". He called for Iraqis themselves to be given
a greater role in ensuring security.

Ayatollah Hakim said that religious leaders had an important role to play
in the reconstruction of Iraq. "The clergy are part of their society," he
said. "They have to be involved in political affairs."

Born in Najaf in 1939, ayatollah Hakim was the sixth son of ayatollah
Muhsin al-Hakim, a religious leader who supported the al-Dawaa party, then
the major Shia Islamist party in Iraq. Imprisoned three times under the
Baathist regime, ayatollah Mohammed Baqr Hakim fled to Iran in 1980,
supported Iran against Iraq in the 1980-88 and in 1982 formed Majlis, or
the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri).

Ayatollah Hakim returned to Najaf amid scenes of jubilation after the
overthrow of Saddam Hussein in the US-led invasion, but celebrations of the
end of the Baathist regime soon turned sour in the holy city.

On April 10, a Najaf mob murdered Abdelmajid al-Khoi, son of the late grand
ayatollah Abu al-Qassem al-Khoi. Some blamed the killing on Moqtada Sadr, a
young militant cleric, although Mr Sadr has strenuously denied the charge.

The US presence in the city was stepped up today as injured were taken from
the Imam Ali shrine to the main hospital. Since April, the Americans have
barely set foot in Najaf, apparently in fear of upsetting Shia

But Majlis says that the US has turned down its request to set up an
independent security. During the March-April war, Donald Rumsfeld, US
defence secretary, warned Majlis that if its armed forces, known as the
Badr brigade, took any role in the fighting they would be regarded as
"combatants" by the US.

The Badr brigade subsequently gave up its heavy weapons in response to a US
request, and Abdul-Aziz Hakim, brother of ayatollah Mohammed Baqr Hakim and
Majlis security chief, joined the US-appointed governing council.

Ayatollah Hakim told his followers on many occasions that while they
opposed US occupation, they should work to end it peacefully and should not
resort to violence.

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