Iraqis Remember Slain Cleric

An estimated 50,000 Shiite Muslim faithful descended on Iraq's holy city of Najaf on Friday for ceremonies marking the 40th day since the car bomb assassination of revered cleric Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim.

The crowd marched into the city chanting anti-Saddam Hussein slogans, some people beating their chests in a traditional Shiite gesture of mourning. Others chanted pledges of support for Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, the dead cleric's brother and a member of the U.S.-appointed Governing Council.

"The enemies of the Iraqi people from the remnants of the former regime and their allies are criminals and terrorists and they are determined to commit their crimes against the Iraqi people, who will not remain silent," said al-Hakim.

He also was critical of the U.S.-led occupation authority's attempts to pacify the country, which is still rattled by violence nearly six months after Saddam was ousted.

"The adopted policies by the occupation forces in dealing with the security situation are wrong and must be reconsidered and abandoned. Political parties must be counted on to handle this difficult task," he said.

Al-Hakim was killed in a car bombing Aug. 29 in Najaf. The attack left more than 80 others dead and more than 140 wounded in the single deadliest attack under the U.S.-led occupation.

In other developments:

  • Two trailers the CIA has said were likely mobile biological weapons factories are being examined again, military officials tell The Associated Press. That comes after chief weapons hunter David Kay reported to Congress he has found no banned weapons in Iraq.
  • Overnight, the U.S. military reported soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division witnessed two Iraqis killed as they were trying to place a roadside bomb in Kirkuk, 145 miles northeast of Baghdad.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested that the Iraqi people remained suspicious of the U.S.-led occupying forces. Iraqis "have more confidence in that country's traditional partners than in some who are controlling the country today," Putin told a World Economic Forum in Moscow on Friday.
  • The U.S.-run coalition announced that an Iraqi judge in Basra has ordered the confiscation of nearly 133,000 gallons of Iraqi oil and the two tankers suspected of attempting to smuggle it out of the country. The order allows the Iraqi Ministry of Finance to dispose of the vessels and the oil either through sale or use by the government. A coalition naval task force seized the two vessels, the Saudi Gizan and the Manara II, in August in the Gulf.
  • Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, U.S. commander in Iraq, said between three and six American soldiers are killed and another 40 wounded every week in Iraq by an enemy that has become more lethal and sophisticated since the fall of Baghdad in April.
  • The United States got an unusual rebuff from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan for its new resolution to get more troops and money to help stabilize Iraq. France, Russia and Germany also signaled another tough battle ahead in the U.N. Security Council.

    All want a quick transfer of power to a provisional Iraqi government that would then draft a constitution and hold elections. But unlike the contentious dispute earlier this year over a resolution to authorize the U.S.-led war, nobody is threatening a veto.

    "Obviously, it's not going in the direction I had recommended, but I will still have to study it further," Annan said Thursday of the new U.S. draft.

    Annan told the 15 Security Council ambassadors at a private lunch Thursday that the United Nations could not participate properly because the resolution blurred the roles of the United Nations and the coalition, council diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

    Either the coalition or the United Nations should lead the process, Annan told the members, but the best solution would be for a provisional Iraqi government to be installed quickly because that would enable the world body to help the Iraqis directly, the diplomats said.

    According to U.N. diplomats, Annan has said having Iraqis control their country would make it easier politically for other nations to contribute troops and money because they would not have to deal with the current U.S.-British occupation authorities.

    But U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte ruled out an early transfer of power, as did Secretary of State Colin Powell who warned that a hasty transition in Iraq from U.S. occupation to civilian rule could produce a "failed state."

    The Iraqis should draft a new constitution, hold elections, "and after that — and only after that — would full governmental functions be handed over to the Iraqis," Negroponte stressed.

    Annan said he recommended expanding the Governing Council and setting up an interim Iraqi government, which would assume power in a few months. The aim, hopefully, would be to change "the dynamics on the ground," improve the security situation and send a message to the Iraqi people and the region.

    On the ground in Iraq, U.S. soldiers are still facing 15-20 attacks a day, including roadside bombs, Sanchez said. Seven to 10 attacks a day involve small groups of fighters.

    "They're getting attacked every day," Sanchez said of his soldiers. "I'm having soldiers wounded at a rate of about 40 a week and getting killed anywhere from three to six soldiers a week."

    Most attacks occur in Baghdad and the surrounding Sunni Muslim stronghold to the west and north of the capital, although it's unclear whether Iraqi or foreign forces account for the majority.

    "The enemy has evolved — a little bit more lethal, a little more complex, a little more sophisticated, and in some cases, a little bit more tenacious," Sanchez said.