09/02 - Iraqi official wants U.S. to leave nation - East Valley Tribune: Nation / World

09/02 - Iraqi official wants U.S. to leave nation

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Posted: Tuesday, September 2, 2003 11:04 am | Updated: 1:08 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

NAJAF, Iraq - A member of the U.S.-picked governing council angrily denounced the American occupation in a eulogy for his slain brother before 400,000 Shiite mourners Tuesday, demanding U.S. troops leave Iraq and blaming them for lax security that led to the revered cleric's assassination.

Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim spoke in the holy city of Najaf at the funeral of his brother, Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim. Men clad in white robes and dark uniforms brandishing Kalashnikov rifles stood guard along the roof of the gold-domed Imam Ali mosque, where the cleric was killed Friday in a car bombing.

Shortly before the funeral started, a car bomb exploded in central Baghdad outside police headquarters, killing one police officer and wounding up to 13 people, an Iraqi police officer said. It was the latest attack apparently targeting Iraqis working with the U.S.-led occupation.

Also Tuesday, a Black Hawk helicopter crashed south of Baghdad, killing one U.S. soldier and injuring another in a "non-hostile" incident, said U.S. military spokesman Spc. Anthony Reinoso. The military also announced that two U.S. soldiers were killed Monday by a roadside bomb in southern Iraq.

The deaths raised to 286 the number of American forces killed in the Iraq war. Of those, 148 died since President Bush declared an end to major fighting on May 1. Seventy soldiers have died in combat since Bush's declaration.

L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. civilian administrator for Iraq, who cut short his vacation because of the Najaf bombing, said Tuesday that coalition forces want to share responsibility for national security with Iraqis.

"We have seen ... the influx of both foreign fighters and foreign terrorists in the last months and it shows that Iraq is one of the battlefields in the worldwide war against terrorism," Bremer said.

"We completely agree with the argument that we should find ways quickly to give Iraq and Iraqis more responsibility for security and indeed that is exactly what we are doing," he said, adding that as many as 60,000 Iraqis are involved in security - or are being trained.

In Najaf, black mourning banners were draped across the Imam Ali shrine. Friday's bombing there was Iraq's bloodiest attack since the fall of Saddam Hussein, with accounts of the death toll ranging from more than 80 to more than 120.

"The occupation force is primarily responsible for the pure blood that was spilled in holy Najaf, the blood of al-Hakim and the faithful group that was present near the mosque," the cleric's brother said.

"This force is primarily responsible for all this blood and the blood that is shed all over Iraq every day ... Iraq must not remain occupied and the occupation must leave so that we can build Iraq as God wants us to do."

Unable to recover al-Hakim's body after the blast, the family buried a coffin containing his watch, his pen and wedding ring in the 1920 Revolution Square, a cemetery set aside for martyrs in the Shiite uprising against British occupation. Al-Hakim's 15 bodyguards were buried in neighboring plots.

Mourners scooped up sand from the ground in the cemetery to take home as a souvenir.

Earlier, police on loudspeakers implored the crowds jammed shoulder-to-shoulder in the streets surrounding the shrine to allow the truck carrying the ceremonial coffin to pass. Despite their efforts, the truck, was unable to make it to the entrance of the mosque in Najaf, 110 miles south of Baghdad.

Police stood with their weapons ready as pumps sprayed water on the mourners after some fainted from the heat.

The ayatollah's son warned that the country had entered a dangerous new era.

"Our injured Iraq is facing great and dangerous challenges in which one requires strength," Mohammed Hussein Mohammed Saeed Al-Hakim said as the funeral procession made one of its final stops before Najaf in the town of Hilla.

In Baghdad, huge plumes of black smoke rose above the blast scene, where debris lay scattered around the headquarters.

Iraqi Police Officer Ibrahim Yusuf said investigators were looking into the possibility that a member of the police force may have planted the bomb. Acting police chief Hassan al-Obeidi, who has offices in the headquarters building, is closely associated with the U.S.-led occupation authority.

The spiritual leader of the al-Qaida-linked Ansar al-Islam terrorist group, Mullah Krekar, denied that his organization played any role in the Najaf bombing, or the attacks on the Jordanian Embassy on Aug. 7 and the U.N. headquarters on Aug. 19.

"I consider it very unlikely that members of Ansar al-Islam committed such big and grave acts," Krekar said in a statement broadcast on the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera TV station, adding that his group's Islamic convictions prevent them from striking such targets.

The CIA said Monday it was examining an audiotape purportedly from Saddam denying he was behind the Najaf bombing. Al-Hakim was a longtime opponent of Saddam who returned from exile after the U.S. invasion.

Al-Hakim spent more than two decades in exile in Iran, returning only in May.

The tape appeared to have little effect on the anger Shiites feel against Saddam and his Baath Party. Mourners beat their chests outside the shrine demanding vengeance and a new banner hanging at the entrance of the Najaf declared: "Killing Baathists is a national and religious obligation."

Some Iraqi police leading the investigation of the bombing have said they believe al-Qaida linked Islamic militants were behind the attack - not Saddam loyalists. The FBI said it would help investigate the bombing after receiving a request from local officials.

The transfer of patrols in Najaf from U.S. Marines to an international force led by Poland, set for this week, had been put on hold. The overall handover ceremony will still take place Wednesday in Hilla, said Maj. Rick Hall, spokesman for the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines.

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