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Mood in Najaf Remains Very Tense - 2003-08-30

Thousands of people are in the Iraqi holy city of Najaf to bury victims of Friday's car bombing, which killed 107 people, including Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, a leading cleric of Iraq's Shi'ite community. VOA's Scott Bobb is in Najaf, and visited the Imam Ali Mosque, where the explosion took place. He says tensions are high in the city, from where he brings us this on-scene report.

This is Scott Bobb in Najaf. I'm standing on the street here, in the center of the city. Literally, every mosque in the city is receiving dead bodies for prayers before burial. I am standing just a few yards from the famous cemetery in Najaf, which contains the remains of millions of Sh'ite faithful - this is the place that they come, where they wish to be buried.

Six pall-bearers have just come by, bearing a coffin - a simple wooden coffin - taking it to the mosque here. There will be prayers, and then they will take it to the cemetery for burial.

At Imam Ali Mosque, workers are still cleaning up from Friday's blast. People tell me that a car that appeared to have the markings of a television crew is the car that blew up, and this has caused considerable feelings of hostility toward journalists, in particular television journalists, whether rightfully or wrongfully. We have reports that some have been attacked with stones, and there may be some injured.

Now, the scene at the mosque, thousands of people have converged for the prayers for the cleric, al-Hakim, who died in the blast, and he will be buried around midday at the cemetery here. But literally, just about every mosque in the city, this holy city, has crowds of people coming to pray and bury their dead.

The mood is very, very tense. There are local Iraqi police out, directing traffic. They are forbidding cars to go near the mosque, the Imam Ali Mosque. They are letting pedestrians go in. But again, the mood is tense and somewhat hostile. Many people feel that this is the work of the former regime. The more moderate, the elders are calling for peace and restraint, but emotions are running very high, as the people of Najaf bury their dead.