Accessibility links

Top Religious Leader Urges Iraqis to Resist Occupation - 2003-05-24

A top Iraqi exiled religious leader told Iraqis Saturday to resist occupation and to form a government that respects the values of Islam.

The return of exiled Shiite leader Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim to Iraq's holy city of Karbala Saturday drew a crowd of thousands to the Imam Hussain mosque.

Mr. Hakim, who fled to Iran 23 years ago, delivered an impassioned speech in which he wept over the sacrifices made by the residents of Karbala.

Mr. Hakim went on to demand to know why Iraqis are not running their own country.

The Ayatollah is seen in many quarters as a religious leader who wants to bring an Iranian style government to Iraq. He told the cheering crowd to reject occupation and said he wants a modern government that represents all Iraqis but one that also respects Islam and its values.

The crowd responded to Mr. Hakim in much the same way Iraqis used to demonstrate for Saddam Hussein, chanting "with our souls, with our blood, we will sacrifice ourselves for you."

In Baghdad Saturday the United States began paying Iraq's almost 1.5 million state employees their wages for the first time since Saddam Hussein's regime was overthrown.

General Jay Garner, accompanied by Assistant Treasury Secretary David Nummy, made the first salary payments of $180,000. A total of $45 million is expected to be paid by early June.

Iraqi electricity employees, who had been threatening to go on strike, were the first employees to be paid.