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Bomb hits home of key Iraqi Shi'ite cleric
( 2003-08-25 08:46) (Agencies)

A bomb ripped through the home of one of Iraq's most important Shiite clerics in the Islamic holy city of Najaf on Sunday, wounding the cleric, killing three guards and injuring family members, a relative of the cleric and member of the Iraqi Governing Council said. 

A U.S. soldier walks past a car overturned and set fire by angry Turkmen, near a police station during clashes between ethnic Iraqi Turkmen and Kurdish peshmergas, in Kirkuk, Aug. 23, 2003. Iraqi police patrolled the streets of Kirkuk Sunday after ethnic violence in northern Iraq left several dead, stoking further tension in a country already grappling with lawlessness and a guerrilla insurgency.  [Reuters]
The bombing occurred in a city where power struggles could influence the political future of majority Shi'ite Iraq as U.S.-led forces battle to stamp out guerrilla-style attacks blamed on Saddam Hussein loyalists and foreign terrorists.

Ayatollah Mohammed Saeed al-Hakim suffered light neck wounds in the bombing at his office near the Imam Ali mosque, tomb of Ali, a caliph and cousin of the Prophet Mohammed, and the most sacred Shi'ite site in Islam. Ten other people were wounded.

The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), one of the country's main Shi'ite groups but criticized by some Shi'ites for cooperating with the U.S.-led administration in Baghdad, said it was the target of the attack.

Hakim is uncle of SCIRI leader Ayatollah Mohammed Baqer al-Hakim, whose group is represented on the U.S.-backed Iraqi Governing Council that Washington sees as a first step toward turning the country into a democracy.

Hakim's son, Haidar Mohammad Saeed al-Hakim, told Arabiya TV from Beirut the bomb had been planted in a room where the cleric was resting after prayers.

"There was a strange man in the building outside his office. When someone went to see who it was, a bomb went off. Three security guards were killed," a SCIRI spokesman told Reuters.

Tension between rival Shi'ite groups in Najaf, located about 90 miles south of Baghdad, has risen since the U.S.-led war that ousted Saddam on April 9.

On April 10, Shi'ite cleric Abdul Majid al-Khoei was hacked to death at the Najaf mosque by a mob which also killed several others.

Senior clerics blamed the killings on a group linked to Moqtada al Sadr, a rival Shi'ite leader who has condemned the U.S. occupation and refused to join the council. Sadr's group denied the charge.


The top U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, said foreign terrorists were becoming a growing problem in the country but he believed die-hard Saddam supporters were behind most of the attacks on U.S. soldiers and other targets.

"We are now seeing a large number of international terrorists coming into Iraq," he said in a U.S. television interview, adding they were crossing from Syria and Iran.

"We do have a problem now with more terrorists here... it emerges now as an important threat to us," Bremer, a counter-terrorism expert, told ABC.

He said he did not agree with those calling for the United States to add to the 140,000 troops it already had in Iraq, but instead favored a more multinational contingent to replace some U.S. troops, as outlined by President Bush.

Since Bush declared major combat in Iraq over on May 1, 64 U.S. soldiers have been killed by hostile fire, mostly in Sunni Muslim central Iraq where Saddam had strongholds of support.

"What we do in the next several months will determine whether we're in a very difficult situation or not," said Senator John McCain, a prominent member of Bush's Republican Party, pressing for more troops in Iraq.

In Baghdad, a bridge over the Tigris river that is on a main route to the headquarters of the U.S.-led administration was closed after explosives were found, Iraqi police said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it was reducing its Baghdad staff due to security concerns after a truck bomb attack on the U.N. headquarters in Iraq last week in which 24 people were killed. The ICRC gave no figures.

A tense calm settled over Iraq's northern oil hub of Kirkuk on Sunday after at least 12 people were killed in two days of clashes between Kurds and Turkmen in the area.

Shops were open and traffic flowed through the streets of the city, divided among Arabs, Kurds and the Turkish-speaking Turkmen vying for political power at the site of Iraq's richest oil reserves after the fall of Saddam.

The violence began on Friday in Tuz Khurmatu, south of Kirkuk. The mayor of Tuz Khurmatu said nine people were killed after Turkmen accused Kurds of defiling a Shi'ite shrine. On Saturday, three people were killed in Kirkuk, officials said.

Both Kurds and Turkmen recount persecution during Saddam's rule when many were expelled from Kirkuk and replaced with Arabs from other parts of the country in a bid to change the city's ethnic make-up.

The Turkmen, whose presence in Iraq dates back to Ottoman rule, say they now face oppression by the Kurds.

Turkey, which wants to suppress Kurdish separatism within its own borders, has expressed concern about growing Kurdish influence in Iraq. Parts of northern Iraq have been controlled by Kurds for years, even while Saddam was in power.

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