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Iraqi Shi'ite Muslims Crowd Streets of Najaf to Bury Cleric's Bodyguards - 2003-08-25


In Iraq, thousands of Shi'ite Muslims crowded into the streets of Najaf to bury three bodyguards who were killed Sunday in an attempt on the life of a prominent Shi'ite Muslim cleric. Many Iraqis are blaming loyalists of the deposed regime of Saddam Hussein for the attack.

The three bodyguards were killed when a bomb exploded outside the office of Ayatollah Mohammed Sa'id al-Hakim which was located near one of Iraq's most sacred mosques. Ayatollah al-Hakim was slightly wounded in the attack.

The cleric is part of an influential Shi'ite group and his uncle is a member of the U.S.-appointed governing council of Iraq. Other Shi'ite groups have recently condemned those who cooperate with the United States, and rivalry between the groups is common.

Last April another Shi'ite cleric was hacked to death outside the same mosque in Najaf in an attack that some religious leaders blame on similar rivalries.

In Baghdad, the International Committee of the Red Cross has announced it will reduce its presence in city for security reasons. Spokeswoman Nada Doumani, speaking as workers piled sandbags around her offices, said the decision was made after the organization received warnings that it might be attacked. "It was a heartbreaking decision for all of us to be forced to reduce the number of our staff which would probably lead to a certain scaling down of some of the activities of the ICRC, at least in Baghdad," she said.

The downsizing by the organization known as the Red Cross follows bomb attacks on the U.N. headquarters and the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad and an attack last month that killed a Red Cross worker. More than 800 people, including 100 expatriates, have been working for the organization since the end of the Iraqi war.

Ms. Doumani says the latest attacks, which appear to target civilians indiscriminately, have caused feelings of insecurity to spread. "I think everybody in Baghdad at this time does not feel really safe or secure, neither the Iraqi normal citizen, nor the humanitarian aid worker, nor the international [worker], not even the coalition forces. They are also being attacked daily. So I think insecurity and violence are affecting everybody in this city," she said.

But the Red Cross spokeswoman said her organization is committed to continuing its work in Iraq and as a result, it hopes that the reduction of its activities will only be temporary.