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Iraq: Shi'ite Leader Arrives In Al-Najaf

Baghdad, 12 May 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Iraqi Shi'ite leader Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim arrived in the Shi'ite holy city of Al-Najaf today as part of his ongoing tour of the country following years in exile in Iran. Correspondents in Al-Najaf report that al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, was greeted by hundreds of thousands of cheering supporters as he made his first visit to that city in more than three decades.

Al-Hakim returned after 23 years of exile in Iran on 10 May and already has made public appearances in Al-Basrah and Al-Nasiriyah.

Speaking to a large crowd in Al-Nasiriyah yesterday, al-Hakim denounced the U.S.-led occupation forces in Iraq. He demanded that they pull out and allow the Iraqi people to establish their own government.

Al-Hakim's movement advocates Islamic theocratic rule for Iraq, though he recently said that Iraq needs a democracy, not a theocracy as it exists in Iran.

Meanwhile, the new U.S. civilian administrator of Iraq, Paul Bremer, has arrived in Baghdad after what is being reported in the United States as a major shake-up of U.S. officials there.

Bremer said he wants to help Iraqis build a society based on "individual liberties, respect for the rule of law and respect for each other."

After arriving in Baghdad, Bremer said: "The coalition forces did not come to colonize Iraq. We came to overthrow a despotic regime. That we have done. Now, our job is to turn and help the Iraqi people regain control of their own destiny, to help the Iraqi society rebuild on the basis of individual liberties, respect for the rule of law, and respect for each other."

Bremer, a career diplomat and counterterrorism expert, was asked last week by U.S. President George W. Bush to take over the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance in Baghdad. It is the most senior post of the U.S.-led administration for Iraq.

Barbara Bodine, the U.S. official in charge of running Baghdad, is returning to Washington less than three weeks after she arrived in Iraq. Her departure comes amid criticism that public services in the capital are not being restored quickly enough.