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Shiite cleric's killer held

By
P. MITCHELL PROTHERO

BAGHDAD, Sept. 15 (UPI) -- A former Baath Party official arrested in connection with the killing of Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim last month has confessed to planning the operation that killed the senior Shiite cleric, United Press International has learned.

Hakim, the head of the Supreme Council for Revolution in Iraq, was killed by a car bomb in the Shiite holy city of Najaf on Aug. 29. The incident has threatened to further divide Iraqi Shiites oppressed by former President Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, which was primarily Sunni.

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The Shiite Badr Brigade, SCIRI's militia wing, which is now controlled by Hakim's brother Abdul Aziz, arrested the official, the former head of security for Najaf, after a gunfight in the days after the car bombing. Identified as former 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 Baath regime, an Iraqi Police source said.

Abu Zualfakar al-Hussan, a top Badr Brigade official, who was involved in the raid, told UPI that Ghatheeth had confessed to his role in planning and executing the car bombing outside the Imam Ali mosque in Najaf that killed Hakim. The shrine is one of the holiest in Shiite Islam.

Al-Hussan said the confession proved that the remnants of Saddam's regime killed Hakim, a longtime Saddam opponent. However, the confession could not be verified outside of officials from SCIRI and it is unclear if the suspect has been or will be turned over to U.S. military authorities.

A local media report also said Ghatheeth had implicated the former director of Najaf's traffic police in assisting in the attack by opening a road, which had been closed for security purposes, near the shrine. This could not be verified by UPI, however.

Al-Hussan also said he believes al-Qaida network - led by Saudi exile Osama bin Laden - 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 Shiite Islam, Hakim and (another powerful cleric Ali al-Sistani)," he said in an interview in his office located in the vast Shiite 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-Qaida denying any involvement. "They are liars. (We) can see evidence tying them to this crime in the way it was conducted. These people, al-Qaida, are dangerous to all kinds of human beings, Shiite, Sunni, Christian, Jewish."

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. "The coalition forces are dealing with intelligence from the former regime. These guys are misleading the coalition authorities. To catch Baathists and (al-Qaida), they must take advice from the right people. Not those whose hands are wet with blood."

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