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Iraqis Fault U.S. For Mosque Bomb

A member of the U.S.-picked governing council, speaking Tuesday to 400,000 Shiites mourning his slain brother, demanded that American occupation forces leave Iraq, blaming them for the lax security that led to the revered cleric's assassination.

Black mourning banners were draped across the Imam Ali mosque in the holy city of Najaf. On Friday it became the site of the country's bloodiest attack since the fall of Saddam Hussein, in which leading Shiite cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim died.

There are varying accounts of how many other people died in the attack, ranging from more than 80 to more than 120.

"The occupation force is primarily responsible for the pure blood that was spilled in holy Al-Najaf, the blood of al-Hakim and the faithful group that was present near the mosque," Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim said in a funeral oration broadcast live on Hezbollah's al-Manar television.

"Iraq must not remain occupied and the occupation must leave so that we can build Iraq as God wants us to do," he said.

Further north, Iraq's capital was rocked by the second bomb in a day's time. The blast outside Baghdad's police headquarters killed one police officer and wounded up to 13 people, Iraqi Police Officer Ibrahim Yusuf said. An explosion Monday killed two U.S. soldiers.

In other developments:

  • Jessica Lynch, the former prisoner of war whose capture and rescue from an Iraqi hospital made her a national hero, has agreed to a $1 million book deal with publisher Alfred A. Knopf. The book is due out in November.
  • With the cost of rebuilding Iraq set to run into tens of billions of dollars, European officials say the United States is intensifying a search for foreign help to pay the bill, even if that means sharing more control over the reconstruction agenda.
  • Almost 10 American soldiers are being classified as "wounded in action" every day, reports The Washington Post. Many of the 1,124 combat injuries since the war began have gone unreported, says the newspaper, because attacks are so commonplace, the military usually reports on injuries only if a soldier or soldiers died in the attack.
  • A Black Hawk UH-60 helicopter crashed south of Baghdad, killing one U.S. soldier and injuring another. In all, 286 U.S. soldiers have died in the Iraq war, 148 since the end of heavy fighting.
  • Iraq's 25-member Governing Council on Monday announced a Cabinet that mirrored exactly the council's ethnic and religious breakdown with 13 Shiites, five Sunni Arabs, five Kurds (also Sunnis), one ethnic Turk and an Assyrian Christian.

    L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. civilian administrator for Iraq, who cut short his vacation because of the bombing, told a news briefing Tuesday that coalition forces want to share responsibility for national security with Iraqis.

    "We have seen…the influx of both foreign fighters and foreign terrorists in the last months and it shows that Iraq is one of the battlefields in the worldwide war against terrorism," Bremer said. "We completely agree with the argument that we should find ways quickly to give Iraq and Iraqis more responsibility for security and indeed that is exactly what we are doing."

    He said there were already as many as 60,000 Iraqis involved in the security of the country — or being trained for such roles.

    In Najaf, the family buried a symbolic coffin containing the ayatollah's watch, his pen and wedding ring in the 1920 Revolution Square, a cemetery set aside for martyrs from the Shiite uprising against British occupation. It was not possible to identify al-Hakim's remains following the blast.

    Al-Hakim's 15 bodyguards, who died with him in the car bombing, were buried in neighboring plots.

    The spiritual leader of the al Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Islam terrorist group, Mullah Krekar has denied that his organization played any role in the Najaf bombing, or the attacks on the Jordanian Embassy on Aug. 7 and the U.N. headquarters 12 days later. He said in a message broadcast on the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera satellite television station.

    "I consider it very unlikely that members of Ansar al-Islam committed such big and grave acts," Krekar said, adding his group's Islamic convictions prevent them from striking such targets.

    The report further muddled the issue of who could have perpetrated the attack.

    The CIA said Monday it was examining an audiotape recording in which a man claiming to be Saddam denied he was behind the Najaf bombing. Al-Hakim was a longtime opponent of Saddam who returned from exile after the U.S. invasion.

    The voice on the tape appeared to be that of Saddam and employed his well-known rhetorical flourishes in urging Iraqis not to believe those who blamed him and his followers for the bombing, which came shortly after al-Hakim delivered a sermon calling for Iraqi unity.

    Some Iraqi police officials leading the investigation of the bombing have said they believe al Qaeda linked Islamic militants were behind the attack — not Saddam loyalists. The FBI said it would help investigate the bombing after receiving a request from local officials.

    U.S. officials meet their peers from the European Union, the United Arab Emirates, Japan, the World Bank and the United Nations in Brussels on Wednesday to prepare for a donors conference next month in the Spanish capital, Madrid.

    Bremer told The Washington Post last week that Iraq would need "several tens of billions" of dollars to get the country functioning again.

    With U.S. military expenses in Iraq running at $3.9 billion a month and a federal deficit heading for a record $480 billion next year, Washington faces a pressing need to find partners to cover the reconstruction costs.