About 400,000 mourners took to the streets of Najaf Tuesday, flailing their backs and pounding their chests in anguish at the funeral of a leading Shiite cleric assassinated in a car bomb attack.
Men clad in white robes and dark uniforms brandishing Kalashnikov rifles stood guard along the roof of the gold-domed Imam Ali mosque, where Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim was killed Friday in the bloodiest attack since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Accounts of the death toll ranged from more than 80 to more than 120.
In an angry funeral oration, the cleric's brother blamed the U.S. occupation forces for the lax security that led to the attack at Iraq's most sacred Shiite mosque. He raged against the American troops and demanded they leave Iraq.
"The occupation force is primarily responsible for the pure blood that was spilled in holy Al-Najaf," said Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, the ayatollah's brother and a member of the U.S.-picked Governing Council.
"Iraq must not remain occupied and the occupation must leave so that we can build Iraq as God wants us to do," he said.
Iraqi police say they have arrested nine key suspects in the bombing – all with alleged ties to the al Qaeda terrorist network. But CBS News has learned that U.S. officials doubt that any of the culprits have been caught.
In continuing violence, a car bomb blast outside Baghdad's police headquarters Tuesday killed one police officer and wounded up to 13 people, Iraqi police said. The U.S. military also reported that two U.S. soldiers were killed and a third was wounded when a bomb went off beside their convoy in southern Iraq on Monday.
L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. civilian administrator for Iraq, who cut short his vacation because of the bombing in Najaf, 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, al-Hakim's 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.