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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 September, 2003, 17:36 GMT 18:36 UK
Thousands bid cleric farewell
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have massed in the streets of the holy city of Najaf for the burial of Shia cleric Ayatollah Muhammad Baqr al-Hakim, killed by a car bomb on Friday.

The coffin being taken up to the mosque
It was an unprecedented display of grief
Mourners stretched out their hands, chanting their grief at his death, as the coffin - carried on the back of a truck - passed along a wide road leading to the central mosque.

The ayatollah, who died along with more than 120 others in a huge explosion outside Najaf's holiest shrine, was buried in a cemetery set aside for people who died in a Shia uprising against British occupation 80 years ago.

The burial came after a three-day funeral procession which began in Baghdad and visited a number of holy shrines, as Shia tradition demands.

Iraq must not remain occupied and the occupation must leave so that we can build Iraq as God wants us to
Abd-al-Aziz al-Hakim

Tuesday saw another car bomb attack - this time outside a police headquarters in Baghdad.

A number of people were injured but the police chief, Hassan Ali, whom correspondents say may have been the target of the attack, escaped unhurt.

Brother's call for unity

In his eulogy, the ayatollah's brother blamed US-led forces for failing to prevent the bombing and demanded that the occupying armies leave Iraq.

FUNERAL PROCESSION
Mourners with the coffin in Karbala
Sunday: Kadhimiyah
Monday: Karbala
Tuesday: Najaf

Abd-al-Aziz al-Hakim, who is a member of the US-appointed Governing Council, called for unity among all Iraqis and said responsibility for law and order should be handed over to religious agencies.

Addressing a news conference, the US administrator in Iraq, Paul 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".

Iraqi police were joined by guards from the Islamic centre in enforcing tough security measures during Tuesday's event, with thorough checks every 10-15 metres.

No coalition troops were in evidence, with only a handful of US special forces discreetly monitoring the situation.

The sea of mourners - estimated by some at half a million - was kept cool in the searing heat by water canon and baths of cold water.

The BBC's Valerie Jones in Najaf says the mood was calmer and more sombre than the anger and outrage of the last few days.

She says it was a day to mourn the ayatollah who had been a focus for the hopes of the community in the building of the new Iraq. The political implications of his death, she says, are still to be resolved.

Saddam denial

Ayatollah Hakim had a long history of fighting the former Iraqi regime.

Heading the Iranian-backed Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri), he had returned to Iraq after more than two decades in exile, and had cautiously supported co-operation with the US occupying forces.

Iraqi women mourning Ayatollah Hakim
Iraqi Shias are outraged - and militias are jittery
Many of the mourners blame Saddam Hussein loyalists for the attack.

And the American-led coalition has suggested that either supporters of the fugitive former Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, or non-Iraqis linked to al-Qaeda, were responsible for the bombing.

But on Monday Arab TV stations broadcast an audiotape in which a man said to be Saddam Hussein denies involvement in the bombing.

The BBC's security correspondent Frank Gardner says there are already indications that US audio experts analysing the recording believe it to be genuine.

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which has been called in to help investigate the attack, said experts would look for links between the Najaf bombing and attacks on the UN headquarters and Jordanian embassy in Baghdad last month.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Paul Wood
"Mourners were spread across all four lanes of the highway into Najaf"



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