Al-Ahram Weekly Online   4 - 10 September 2003
Issue No. 654
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Passionate rememberance

Hundreds of thousands of mourners converged on the holy city of Al-Najaf Tuesday to grieve Baqir Al-Hakim. Jihan Al-Alaily reports from Al-Najaf

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Hundreds of thousands of Shi'ite Muslims thronged the streets of Najaf in the funeral procession of Ayatollah Mohamed Baqir Al-Hakim, one of 125 victims from a car bombing last Friday
As the funeral cortege for the slain Ayatollah Mohamed Baqir Al-Hakim inched its way towards Al-Najaf's central Mosque of Imam Ali, hundreds of thousands of mourners thronged the ten-kilometre-long road beginning at Al-Kufa Mosque. As the culmination of a funeral procession that had begun in Baghdad three days earlier this spontaneous massing was hardly limited to Al-Najaf, a city holy to Shi'ites. The outpouring of grief throughout Iraq for Baqir Al- Hakim, who was killed along with 124 other worshippers by a powerful car bomb after his sermon last Friday in Al-Najaf, reflected the Shi'ites' loss of a man who embodied their long repressed religious and political aspirations.

The funeral was an occasion for the thousands of Shi'ite mourners, who blamed "Saddam" as well as the "United States" for the killing of their spiritual and political guide, to assert their latent power. "All the people are the Badr Brigade, in defiance of America," they chanted as the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq's (SCIRI) Badr Brigade militia, brandishing Kalashnikovs and pistols, helped prevent the funeral procession from descending into chaos, as was feared.

Many of the black-clad mourners beat their chests and heads and lashed themselves with small chains in an ambulatory theatre of pain and rememberance, a passion play that ritually recalls the martyrdom of Imam Al-Hussein. The slaying of Al-Hussein by Umayyad loyalists at nearby Karbala in 680 AD is seen as a pivotal event in Islamic history, particularly by Shi'ites. Parallels were drawn between the grizzly murder of Baqir Al-Hakim and that of the Prophet Mohamed's grandson. "We will never forget ye Al- Hakim, as we have given our allegiance to your grandfather Al-Hussein!" thousands chanted in a show of genealogical imagination.

Thousands of mourners also celebrated their slain leader with the refrains, "Ye martyr of the Friday sermon, and the pulpit" and "God is most great! Oh Ali, the blood of Al-Hakim is at your door." The latter phrase refers to Imam Ali, son- in-law of the Prophet Mohamed and father of Al- Hussein, whose shrine was damaged by the 700 kilogramme bomb that killed Baqir Al-Hakim.

Forming about 65 per cent of the Iraqi population and repressed for three decades by the former regime, Iraq's Shi'ites feel particularly vulnerable now that one of their most critical voices has been silenced. Baqir Al-Hakim's body was torn apart only days after a foiled assassination attampt against the Grand Ayatollah Mohamed Said Al-Hakim, a relative of the slain Ayatollah.

To avoid a power vacuum in the SCIRI, which Baqir Al-Hakim founded, it was quickly announced on Wednesday that his brother Abdul- Aziz Al-Hakim has been unanimously elected to succeed him.

The Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, revered by millions of Shi'ites in Iraq and elsewhere, was quick to blame the occupation forces in Iraq for Baqir Al-Hakim's death.

"While deploring these ugly deeds, we hold the occupation forces responsible for what Iraq is witnessing in terms of the anarchy and the increasing murderous operations," he said in a released statement.

On Saturday, Abdel-Aziz Al-Hakim told thousands gathered around the Khadhimiya Mosque in Baghdad for the first day of his brother's funeral that the occupation forces were responsible for "all the blood that is shed in every part of Iraq". He said, "the occupation authority... is ultimately responsible for achieving security and stability."

Mohamed Bahr Al-Aloum, one of the leading Shi'ite clerics, suspended his membership in the Interim Governing Council (IGC) to register his protest against the IGC's failure to influence United States policy on security in Iraq. In a subsequent radio interview he threatened to set up armed militias to fill what he saw as a security vacuum.

Shi'ite anger at security policies is a clear setback for the US-led administration in Iraq, which is keen to maintain the support of this sect, particularly given that most of the attacks against coalition forces have been blamed on elements of the former Sunni regime and have been concentrated in the "Sunni triangle" to the north and the west of Baghdad.

Following his return from holiday, chief US administrator in Iraq Paul L Bremer held several meetings with IGC members in order to discuss how Iraqis could play an increased role in their own security. Many Iraqis want to empower militias -- previously ordered to disband by the Americans -- to police and patrol Iraq's cities. The Americans are wary of arming any militias before careful screening for loyalists to the former regime while also guarding against possible sectarian infighting.

Baqir Al-Hakim's assassination completely overshadowed the IGC's appointment of 25 ministers to form a new Iraqi government that will represent Iraq's various sects and ethnicities.

As the ministers took oath in front of the IGC, its President Ibrahim Al-Jaafari vowed that the government would work to improve the lives of its citizens. He added that the IGC would strive to regain international sovereignty. "We are working now to regain the role of the new Iraq at the Arab League and the United Nations," he said.

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