A leading Iraqi Shiite
cleric was among those killed in Friday's bombing in the holy Shi'ite
shrine in the city of Najaf. Ayatollah Mohammed Baqer al-Hakim led
a Shi'ite group that has been working with other political organizations
on Iraq's transition. Correspondent Laurie Kassman looks at the implications
Ayatollah Mohammed Baqer al-Hakim had returned to Iraq only three
months ago. A long-time opponent of the ousted Iraqi leader Saddam
Hussein, Ayatollah Hakim had been living in exile in Iran for more
than 20 years.
After his triumphant return to the holy city of Najaf, the religious
leader kept a relatively low political profile. But the group he
led, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, has
taken an active role in Iraq's transition process.
That put him at odds with other Shi'ite factions struggling to
be the voice of the country's majority population. It also made
him a target for Baath Party loyalists of Saddam Hussein who oppose
the U.S.-led occupation.Ayatollah Hakim's death comes four months
after the murder of another Shiite cleric that was blamed on a
intra-Shiite power struggle. It also comes a week after an assassination
attempt against his own uncle, a prominent moderate Shiite leader.
Middle East analyst Kenneth Pollack says suspicion of guilt will
fall on different factions, including Saddam supporters, al-Qaida
terrorists and rival Shiite leaders who stand to gain from stirring
"Baqer al-Hakim was a long-time foe of Saddam," said Mr. Pollack,
who directs Middle East policy research at the Brookings Institution
in Washington. "That would be reason enough for Saddam loyalists
to go after him. He was a very important Shia figure. That's more
than enough for al-Qaida to go after him. He's also someone who,
even though he has kept the United States at arm's length, has
demonstrated a willingness to cooperate with the U.S.-led reconstruction
of Iraq. For all those reasons it's just too early to know for
certain who was behind this."
The uncertainty, Mr. Pollack notes, could fuel a wave of unfocused
violence, especially since the attack took place at one of the
holiest Shiite shrines, which was partly damaged in the bombing.
There's going to be a lot of anger in the Shia community for the
moment because no one does know who was responsible," he said. "That
anger seems very unfocused."
That spreading anger, Daniel Serwer says, will intensify the
security challenge for U.S.-led occupation forces.
"It puts more pressure on them to provide security in areas where,
clearly, security can only be provided by Iraqis. And Najaf, in
particular, is a holy city and clearly it would be preferable to
have Iraqis dealing with the security situation," said Mr. Serwer,
who directs peace operations for the U.S. Institute of Peace.
Angry Iraqis also have criticized the U.S.-led occupation forces
for not protecting the Shiite leader.
But Iraqi-born political activist Laith Kubba says it is more
than just a question of security.
"Yes, it will put tremendous pressure on America on delivering
security. But the real dilemma is there is no real quick fix to
security," said Mr. Kubba, who heads the Washington-based Iraq
National Group that is trying to help map his country's political
transition. "This has to be done within the context of better planning
and better political management to the country. Pouring more men
and more dollars is not going to fix or solve the problem. There
is no substitute to having a sound plan on transition and this
has been lacking."
The U.S. administration has recognized the urgency of strengthening
its security operations, especially after the recent attacks on
the United Nation's and Jordanian missions in the Iraqi capital
that have spurred many foreign humanitarian missions to reduce
Late Friday, the top U.S. administrator for Iraq, Paul Bremer,
confirmed U.S. forces will work with Iraqi police to find those
responsible for the assassination of Ayatollah Hakim and the other