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Iraqi Officials Mark Deaths of Martyrs, Including Prominent Shi'ite Cleric


Iraq's political leaders struck a hopeful tone as they marked five years since the killing of prominent Shi'ite cleric Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim and dozens of others in a car bombing in the holy city of Najaf in 2003. VOA's Suzanne Presto reports from the northern city of Irbil.

Iraq's prime minister and high-level officials gathered in Baghdad on Saturday to commemorate Iraqis who have been killed in violence, particularly Ayatollah Hakim.

In late August of 2003, he and at least 80 worshippers were killed by a car bomb blast as they left a mosque after Friday prayers.

Ayatollah Hakim was the leader of the main Iraqi Shi'ite group opposed to Saddam Hussein. He was 64 years old at the time of his death.

The ayatollah was considered a relative moderate among the Shi'ite leadership, and he was sometimes criticized for allowing his followers to cooperate with the U.S. administration of Iraq.

Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told officials that cooperation and unity inside Iraq is leading to the nation's renewal.

Mr. Maliki said Iraq's government is in the midst of spring, which is a season traditionally associated with birth and renewal. He said it is also the spring of the Iraqi military's successful operations.

The military has recently led campaigns to clear militants and armed criminals from Basra in the south, Amarah in the southeast, Mosul in the north, and eastern Baghdad's Sadr City.

The prime minister said these operations prove that all of Iraq is united under one national government and for one national peace.

Mr. Maliki stressed that the government will never stop battling outlaws, criminals and militants.

The speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, Mahmoud al-Mashadani, said the nation is now mourning its martyrs, but it will soon rejoice when all the bloodshed gives way to a new and great Iraq.

Mashadani vowed that Iraqis will be able to celebrate the glory of a new Iraq very soon.