- The Washington Times - Friday, September 5, 2003

NAJAF, Iraq — A senior Shi’ite cleric yesterday called for peaceful resistance to the U.S. occupation of Iraq and warned that his followers were running out of patience. In Baghdad, gunmen attacked worshippers after prayers at a Sunni mosque, wounding three persons.

The British government said a bomb-disposal expert was killed and his Iraqi bodyguard seriously wounded when gunmen attacked their vehicle near Mosul in northern Iraq Thursday. The Foreign Office said Ian Rimmel, 58, who worked for the British-based charity Mines Advisory Group, was the second British civilian to die in Iraq since the end of the war.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, on the second day of his Iraq visit, rode through trash-strewn but peaceful streets of Mosul and met with U.S. military and local officials.

Mosul was the only place where he took a convoy of vehicles into town. In Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown, and in Baghdad, he flew on helicopters only into heavily guarded American compounds.

Mosul’s streets were quiet — Friday is the Muslim day of prayer and rest — though dirty and lined with crumbling buildings. Passers-by smiled and waved or just stared at the passing Americans.

In Najaf, 110 miles south of Baghdad, Imam Sadreddine al-Qobanji spoke to more than 15,000 people who jammed the Imam Ali mosque, Iraq’s holiest Shi’ite Muslim shrine. He said last week’s bombing outside the mosque — which killed Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim and dozens of other people — was aimed at sowing discord in Iraq.

“Once we find that this road [peaceful resistance] has come to a dead end, we will adopt other means,” said Imam al-Qobanji, who had been Ayatollah al-Hakim’s deputy.

“Those who killed al-Hakim were hoping we would collapse. They wanted to sow discord among us. They wanted to force a change in our path. We tell them we will not collapse, there will be no discord and there will be no change in the path,” the imam said.

Security was tight in the town, with armed men standing along the top of the shrine. The streets leading to the shrine were blocked to traffic, and pedestrians were searched by policemen, militiamen and residents.

The imam also urged more support for the Badr Brigade, the armed wing of Ayatollah al-Hakim’s Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. U.S. troops ordered the brigade disarmed and disbanded early in the occupation.

“The Badr Brigade must continue to exist and thrive. They must be supported and recognized,” Imam al-Qobanji said to chants of “We are all Badr Brigade.”

Members of the brigade, armed with assault rifles, were out in force around the shrine, each wearing an arm band with “Badr” written on it.

Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, a member of Iraq’s U.S.-picked Governing Council, has taken over his slain brother’s leadership position in the Supreme Council and also leads the Badr Brigade.

In Baghdad, Imam Walid al-Azari said the three men who shot up the Quiba mosque “wanted to harm the unity of Islam.”

He said the attack took place about 4:30 a.m. when the assailants drove up in a pickup truck and opened fire with assault rifles.

The Al Jazeera satellite broadcaster reported yesterday that three Iraqis died and 16 were injured in an explosion at a military ammunition warehouse in Rutbah, a town 240 miles west of Baghdad. The report said the cause of the Thursday blast was unknown.

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