- The Washington Times - Monday, August 25, 2003

BAGHDAD — A bomb ripped through the home of one of Iraq’s most important Shi’ite clerics in the Islamic holy city of Najaf yesterday, killing three guards and injuring family members, said a relative of the cleric and member of the Iraqi Governing Council.

Also yesterday, Iraqi sources said U.S. authorities were recruiting key ex-members of Saddam Hussein’s feared security service, the Mukhabarat, in order to expand intelligence-gathering and root out the resistance that has subjected U.S. forces to guerrilla attacks and now terrorist bombings.

Two U.S. soldiers died Saturday in noncombat incidents, the U.S. military reported yesterday.

A soldier from the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Baghdad was killed in a friendly fire incident. A second soldier from the same regiment drowned in the Euphrates River, west of Ramadi.

In the Najaf bombing, a gas cylinder wired to explode was placed along the outside wall of the home of Mohammed Saeed al-Hakim. It blew up just after noon prayers.

The cleric suffered scratches on his neck, according to Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, a member of Iraq’s U.S.-picked Governing Council and leader of what was the armed wing of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI, headquartered in Iran before the war.

The two men are part of an influential family in the Shi’ite community. Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim is the brother of Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, the leader of SCIRI now believed to divide his time between Najaf and the Iranian capital.

“Obviously, terrorist groups who belong to the former regime are behind this incident,” Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim said. He said Najaf residents rushed to the ayatollah’s house after the explosion, which shattered windows and damaged a wall.

Iraqi newspapers reported last week that Mohammed Saeed al-Hakim had received threats against his life. He is also one of three top Shi’ite leaders threatened with death by a rival Shi’ite cleric shortly after Saddam Hussein was toppled April 9.

A day after Saddam’s ouster, a mob in Najaf hacked to death a Shi’ite cleric who had recently returned from exile. Abdul Majid al-Khoei was killed when a meeting called to reconcile rival Shi’ite groups erupted into a melee at the Shrine of Ali, the third-most important Shi’ite religious site after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.

Shi’ites make up about 60 percent of Iraq’s 24 million population.

In Baghdad, Iraqis closely linked to the Mukhabarat service said the U.S. recruitment of about 100 former intelligence higher-ups had been in progress for more than two weeks.

The Iraqis, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the former agents of the secret police and intelligence operation would work with Americans inside Saddam’s old presidential palace where the U.S.-led coalition has its headquarters.

“It was obvious they would have to turn to the Mukhabarat. They knew everything in this country,” one of the Iraqis said.

The Americans “couldn’t hope to pacify such a big country as Iraq without the Mukhabarat. And the Mukhabarat men, they need money now,” said a second Iraqi who worked closely with the deposed regime’s intelligence operation.

L. Paul Bremer, the civilian chief of the American occupation in Iraq, acknowledged the need for better information.

“It’s not a question of more troops. It’s a question of being effective with our intelligence, getting more Iraqis to help us,” Mr. Bremer said on ABC.

On CNN he said: “We need better intelligence, and we are seeking better intelligence.”

Coalition spokesman Charles Heatly, responding to questions about the recruitment of former Iraqi intelligence officers, said U.S. military intelligence and civilian authorities were “not leaving any stone unturned to uncover the people who are conducting attacks against the Iraqi people and the coalition forces.”

One Iraqi source said Saddam “had some really good agents in Tehran and Damascus. They should be good for the Americans.”

Gen. Richard B. Myers, the top U.S. military officer, told CBS he was unaware of any recruitment of former Iraqi intelligence agents.

However, he said: “The United States will not use former members of these organizations that were part of the torture, the death, the degraded treatment of the Iraqi people under the Saddam regime.”

“That does not mean we do not want the Iraqi people to help. And it just has to be the right kind of Iraqi people helping,” he said.

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