Baghdad, Sept. 2 (Reuters): A car bomb at Baghdad’s police headquarters killed an Iraqi police officer and wounded about 15 others today in a suspected attempt to assassinate the police chief, a key ally of the US-led occupying authorities.
The blast, which sent thick black smoke into the sky, went off as more than 100,000 mourners packed into the holy city of Najaf for the funeral of a top Shia cleric slain in the most deadly of the attacks plaguing post-war Iraq.
Much of the violence has targeted US forces, who lost two soldiers in a landmine explosion yesterday to take the number killed in action since the official end of major combat to 67. But Iraqis cooperating with the occupiers are also at risk.
Explosives rigged to a car in a garage next to city police chief Hassan Ali’s office caused today’s blast, police said. One police officer was killed, the US military said, and hospitals reported 15 people had been injured. Ali is a high-profile figure in US-led efforts to bring security to Iraq and members of the new Iraqi police force are often branded collaborators by opponents of the occupation.
Iraqi police Brigadier Saeed Muneim said Ali had probably been the target of the blast.
“We were sitting inside, doing paperwork when it went off,” said Lt Col Yahya Ibrahim, bloodstains on his pale blue police shirt and a bandage over a head wound. “We did not come here to serve any party of person. We are here to serve Iraq.”
Washington has blamed diehard supporters of Saddam Hussein, ousted in April in the US-led war on Iraq, for most of the post-war violence but is also increasingly mentioning foreign Islamic militants as possible suspects. The latest US soldiers to die were with a military police unit. They were killed and a comrade was wounded when their Humvee vehicle ran over a landmine on a Baghdad supply route yesterday afternoon.
Mourners in Najaf, about 160 km south of Baghdad, slapped their chests and heads in traditional Shia rituals at the funeral of Ayatollah Mohammed Baqer al-Hakim. Hakim was a key leader of Iraq’s Shia majority who had advocated cautious cooperation with the occupiers.
He died with more than 80 of his followers outside the Imam Ali shrine — one of the most sacred sites for Shias — in the most lethal of a string of bombings, increasingly frequent in recent weeks after months of lower-level guerrilla violence.
Some mourners who trailed Hakim’s coffin lashed themselves with small chains; others paused to drink from bathtubs filled with icy water along the roadside as temperatures rose to around 45 degrees Celsius.
“Why didn’t you do this on Friday'” screamed one man pulled aside and searched by the Iraqi police who surrounded the Imam Ali shrine and kept cars from approaching it.
“The sayyid (Hakim) and all the Muslims who died would still be alive.”
Many Shias believe supporters of Saddam, a Sunni who repressed them, carried out the attack. But they also blame US forces for post-war insecurity. The throng trailing Hakim’s coffin as it entered the shrine screamed: “No, no to America!”
While Hakim’s Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq is not friendly towards Washington, it has so far worked with the occupiers in the hope they will install democracy — giving Shias much more power than they had under Saddam. Iraq’s US-backed governing council, which includes Hakim’s brother, named a cabinet of 25 ministers yesterday and they are due to be sworn in tomorrow.
The ministers will formulate policy with the governing council and the occupying authorities. Ultimate power remains with the US-led interim administration. Aid donors meet tomorrow to identify Iraq’s most desperate reconstruction needs and thrash out how to funnel billions of dollars through a trust fund independent of the country’s US-British occupying authorities. US’ readiness to consider bolstering the UN mandate in Iraq has brightened the chances of funding from countries that opposed the war and are keen to avoid any appearance of bankrolling the occupation.
Overshadowing the technical and diplomatic challenges is the question of how to ensure security for donors: several aid agencies and international organisations cut staffing in Iraq after last month’s bomb attack on the UN headquarters.
It is still far from clear what the cost of rebuilding Iraq’s infrastructure, shattered by war and more than a decade of isolation and poverty, will be.
The US administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, says it would cost $2 billion a year to meet current electricity demands and $16 billion over four years to deliver clean water.
. Estimates of the total cost run to as high as $100 billion -- dwarfing potential income from the world's second-largest oil reserves.
But Wednesday's gathering in Brussels will only set the scene for an October 23-24 meeting in Madrid when donors and institutions will make firm offers to foot some of the giant bill for the remainder of this year and all of next year.