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Iraq: Vast Crowd Of Shi'ites Mourn Slain Cleric

Baghdad, 31 August 2003 (NCA) - Tens of thousands of Iraqis thronged the streets of Baghdad today for the funeral procession of Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim (pictured), the top Shi'ite Muslim cleric who was killed by a car bomb in Al-Najaf on 29 August. Mourners packed the streets around Baghdad's Musa al-Kadhim Mosque, where al-Hakim's remains had lain overnight. They chanted and beat their chests as the coffin was carried through the crowd and then placed on a truck, guarded by men with automatic rifles.

Al-Hakim's remains will now be taken to the holy city of Karbala, south of Baghdad, where a similar funeral gathering will take place, and then on 2 September back to the holy city of Al-Najaf, where he will be buried.

The cleric was killed two days ago in the deadliest attack in Iraq since the end of the war that ousted Saddam Hussein. More than 80 other people were killed in the blast.

Many Shi'ites have blamed the attack on diehard supporters of Hussein, who repressed the Shi'ite community when he was in power. Some analysts have also suggested Shi'ites opposed to al-Hakim's moderate political positions could be to blame. Several suspects have been detained.