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Cleric Calls for U.S. Resistance in Iraq

September 6, 2003

NAJAF, Iraq (AP) _ A senior Shiite cleric called Friday for peaceful resistance to the U.S. occupation of Iraq and warned his followers were running out of patience. In Baghdad, gunmen attacked worshippers after prayers at a Sunni mosque, wounding three people.

Imam Sadreddine al-Qobanji spoke to more than 15,000 people who jammed the Imam Ali mosque, Iraq’s holiest Shiite Muslim shrine. He said last week’s bombing outside the mosque _ which killed Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim and dozens of other people _ was aimed at sowing discord in Iraq.

``Once we find that this road (peaceful resistance) has come to a dead end, we will adopt other means,″ said al-Qobanji, who had been al-Hakim’s deputy.

``Those who killed al-Hakim were hoping we would collapse. They wanted to sow discord among us. They wanted to force a change in our path. We tell them we will not collapse, there will be no discord and there will be no change in the path,″ al-Qobanji said.

In remarks released Friday by the State Department for a radio address to the Iraqi people, U.S. civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer told the Iraqis the United States does not like being an occupying power and will leave when Iraqis have their own elected government.

``You must have a government which governs for your benefit and which derives from your will,″ Bremer said. ``But to elect a government without a permanent constitution is to elect a Pharaoh, someone who, once elected, would have no limits on his power.″

Bremer outlined a several-step process involving the drafting and approval of a new constitution that will culminate in Iraqi self-government. But he stressed that he did not know how long it would take.

He also appealed to the Iraqi people to help the Governing Council, the Iraqi police and coalition forces identify and arrest saboteurs and terrorists trying to disrupt the path to democracy.

``These criminals will not succeed, but their campaigns of murder, sabotage and destruction can slow this process,″ he warned.

In Najaf, 110 miles south of Baghdad, security was tight with armed men standing along the top of the Shiite shrine. The streets leading to the shrine were blocked to traffic, and pedestrians were searched by policemen, militiamen and residents.

Al-Qobanji also urged more support for the Badr Brigade, the armed wing of al-Hakim’s Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. U.S. troops ordered the brigade disarmed and disbanded early in the occupation.

``The Badr Brigade must continue to exist and thrive. They must be supported and recognized,″ al-Qobanji said to chants of ``We are all Badr Brigade.″

Members of the brigade, armed with AK-47 rifles, were out in force around the shrine, each wearing an arm band with ``Badr″ written on it.

Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, a member of Iraq’s U.S.-picked Governing Council, has taken over his slain brother’s leadership position in the Supreme Council and also leads the Badr Brigade.

He had been expected to lead the prayers in Najaf, but al-Qobanji said the new spiritual leader was unable to attend out of concerns for his security and unspecified health problems.

The new Supreme Council leader’s son, Ammar, attended in his place, and was met with chants of ``with our blood, with our soul, we sacrifice ourselves for you, oh Hakim.″

In Baghdad, Imam Walid al-Azari said the three men who shot up the Quiba mosque ``wanted to harm the unity of Islam.″

He said the attack took place about 4:30 a.m. when the assailants drove up in a pickup truck and opened fire with Kalashnikov rifles.

It was unclear if the attack was religiously motivated or the work of possible Saddam Hussein loyalists seeking to initiate violence between Shiites and Sunnis. Shiites make up 60 percent of the population, but were oppressed by Saddam, whose Sunni minority has always ruled postcolonial Iraq.

The Al-Jazeera satellite broadcaster reported Friday that three Iraqis died and 16 were injured in an explosion at a military ammunition warehouse in Rutbah, a town 240 miles west of Baghdad. The report said the cause of the Thursday blast was unknown. x Also Friday, Russia’s foreign minister gave cautious approval to a U.S.-drafted resolution for a greater role for the United Nations in Iraq, saying Moscow wouldn’t mind American leadership in a broader international peacekeeping force.

``Preliminarily speaking, I can say that this initiative deserves attention since the content of the proposed resolution reflects those principles which Russia has consistently championed,″ Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said.

Russia _ who could veto the resolution as one of five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council _ joins Britain in supporting the draft. France has criticized the resolution but says it is open to talks; China said Friday it was studying the draft.

Bernard Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner who was in Iraq to help rebuild the country’s police force, ended his contracted tour of duty earlier this week as planned.

Kerik said his decision to come to Baghdad was ``99.9 percent″ linked to the Sept. 11 attacks, which occurred while he was police commissioner. He retired in January 2002 and runs a risk management firm with former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

In his remarks, Bremer said the next step toward Iraqi self-government would be recommendations by a committee of the Governing Council on a process for writing the constitution.

Iraqis he promised, will eventually vote only on whether to accept the constitution and will then elect their leaders.

``Once Iraq has a freely elected government the Coalition will happily yield the remainder of its authority to that sovereign Iraqi government,′ Bremer said. ``The Coalition will then have fulfilled its obligations to the Iraqi people and to posterity.″

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