BAGHDAD — A former Ba’ath Party official has confessed to planning the massive car bombing that killed the senior Shi’ite cleric Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim and more than 80 others last month, a top Shi’ite security official said.
Ayatollah al-Hakim, the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), was killed in the Shi’ite holy city of Najaf on Aug. 29. The incident has threatened to further divide Iraqi Shi’ites oppressed by former President Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party, which was primarily Sunni.
The Shi’ite Badr Brigade, SCIRI’s military wing, which is now controlled by Ayatollah Hakim’s brother Abdul Aziz, arrested the official after a gunfight in the days after the car bombing.
Identified as former Najaf security director Kareem Ghatheeth, the official had been removed from that position by U.S. military forces on charges of corruption and ties to the Ba’ath regime, an Iraqi police source said.
Abu Zualfakar al-Hussan, a top Badr Brigade official, who was involved in the capture raid, said Mr. Ghatheeth confessed to his role in planning and executing the car bombing outside the Imam Ali mosque in Najaf, that killed Ayatollah Hakim. The shrine is one of the holiest in Shi’ite Islam.
Mr. Al-Hussan said the confession proved that the remnants of Saddam’s regime killed Ayatollah Hakim, a longtime Saddam opponent. But the confession could not be verified independently and it is not clear if the suspect has been or will be turned over to U.S. military authorities.
A local media report also said Mr. Ghatheeth implicated the former director of Najaf’s traffic police in assisting in the attack by opening a road near the shrine that had been closed for security purposes. This claim could not be verified.
Mr. Al-Hussan also said he believes Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network participated in the attack but acknowledged the link had not been fully established.
“I have seen with my own eyes, a Web site devoted by followers of Osama bin Laden that said ‘We must kill the big heads of Shi’ite Islam, Hakim and [another powerful cleric, Ali al-Sistani],’” he said in an interview in his office in the vast Shi’ite slum of Baghdad called Sadr City, formerly Saddam City.
“I cannot believe that they were not behind the explosion that martyred Ayatollah Hakim,” he said, dismissing a statement by al Qaeda denying any involvement. “They are liars. [We] can see evidence tying them to this crime in the way it was conducted. These people, al Qaeda, are dangerous to all kinds of human beings, Shi’ite, Sunni, Christian, Jewish.”
Mr. Al-Hussan said this would not change SCIRI’s position that Iraq should unite across sectarian and ethnic lines, and that it would not be used as an excuse for revenge against Sunnis. But he called on the U.S. military to work to stabilize Iraq with groups such as his instead of relying on Iraqi expatriate groups and members of the former regime’s intelligence services.
“We are not seeking blood; we are seeking stability,” he said.