Iraq: August 29, 2003


A car bomb went off in Najaf, inside the Tomb of Ali Mosque, killing the leading Shiite politician and religious leader, Ayatollah Mohammad Baqer al-Hakim. At least 82 other people were killed, and over 200 wounded. The mosque is considered the holiest shrine of Shia Islam and is 180 kilometers south of Baghdad. Al Hakim had just delivered a sermon in which he called for all Iraqis to unit for the good of their country. Al Hakim had been in exile in Iran for over twenty years, and was the leader of SAIRI (Supreme Assembly for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq). This organization had a large armed militia, which largely disbanded at American insistence. Al Hakim was opposed to American occupation of Iraq, but cooperated with the coalition forces. Coalition troops, at Iraqi request, kept away from the Shia holy places, but provided and weapons and advice on how to provide security.

There is a power struggle going on among the Shia clerics in Iraq. They all realize that, with 60 percent of the country's population, once elections are held, Shias will be in control of Iraq for the first time in over three centuries. Some of the Shia clerics want to establish an Islamic republic, but the majority of Iraqi Shias (and non-Shias) are against that. But few Iraqis oppose clerics running for office and taking part in the government and politics.


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