Eighty-three Muslim worshippers were martyred by the bomb that exploded outside the mosque at the Imam Ali mausoleum in Najaf immediately after juma prayers on August 29, but there was little doubt that its main target was Ayatullah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, leader of Majlis al-Aala l’il-Thawra al- Islami f’il-Iraq (The Supreme Assembly for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq).
Muslims throughout the world mourned the man who had become a symbol of Iraqis’ suffering over the last two decades, as he led the countries largest and most credible opposition movement from exile in neighbouring Islamic Iran. In Iraq, hundreds of thousands attended rallies of mourning in Baghdad and other major cities, which culminated in his funeral in Najaf on September 2. Muslim leaders all over the world issues messages of condolence.
Imam Sayyid Ali Khamenei, Leader of Islamic Iran, described Baqir al-Hakim as a "mujahid alim who spent years fighting the Saddam regime" and "a bastion of resistance against the American and British occupiers." He declared three days of mourning.
While Muslims were mourning, Iraq’s American occupation authorities, responsible for all security in the country, particularly as they had prevented local organizations from operating freely to protect themselves, were hastily blaming anybody and everybody else for the attack. Their first accusations were against the ubiquitous ‘Saddam loyalists’, closely followed by ‘"al-Qa’ida elements" who, they unofficially suggested, may have targeted Baqir al-Hakim because he was Shi’a. They also briefed journalists that Muqtadar Al-Sadr may have been responsible as part of a struggle for leadership of Iraqi Shi’is. These briefings were followed by the arrests of two locals described as Saddam supporters and two foreign resistance fighters, linked with al-Qa’ida. More arrests followed later. They also immediately started describing Baqir al-Hakim as a ‘moderate’ Shi’a leader, suggesting that he was killed because he cooperated with the US.
None of these explanations have convinced many local people, however. Many have pointed out that neither Saddam nor any other resistance group has any reason to alienate Iraq’s Shi’as by targeting Baqir al-Hakim, and that it is inconceivable that Muqtader al-Sadr would bomb the Imam Ali mausoleum, even if he did want to target Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, which few believe. The authority’s suggestion that Baqir al-Hakim cooperated with the occupation has also been attacked, with his brother Abdul Aziz al-Hakim – a member of the Governing Council who was also confirmed as the new leader of the Majlis – saying that Baqir al-Hakim’s commitment was to securing Iraq’s freedom from occupation and the establishment of a "free, independent and stable Iraq."
As the investigation of the bombing, and all forensic evidence, is in the hands of the US authorities, it is unlikely that credible findings on the identity of the real bombers will ever emerge. Many observers have pointed out, however, that the main beneficiaries of Baqir al-Hakim’s death have been those opposed to a "free" and "independent" Iraq, and that the US has a long record of trying to prevent the Majlis from translating its long-established position as the leading Iraqi political movement into power on the ground. The US walked away from talks among Iraqi exiles in London late last year, intended to plan for Iraq post-Saddam, precisely because Baqir al-Hakim emerged as the most popular opposition figure.
Many observers have also pointed out that the scale and efficiency of the attack suggests state involvement, and there have been persistent reports of an Israeli presence in Najaf shortly before the bombing. Israel has, of course, a long record of political assassinations, and is a close ally of the US.
The precise, detailed truth of the bombing may take a very long time to emerge, if ever it does; but meanwhile, few Iraqis will uncritically accept the versions put forward by the US authorities.