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FBI to join mosque bombing probe

Thousands of Shiites mourn slain cleric

An Iraqi man carrying a picture of Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim mourns the Shiite ayatollah's death.
An Iraqi man carrying a picture of Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim mourns the Shiite ayatollah's death.

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Thousands of Iraqis march toward Najaf to mourn a leading Shiite cleric.
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NAJAF, Iraq (CNN) -- The FBI will assist Iraqi police in investigating the bombing near a mosque in Najaf that killed scores of people and injured more than 500 others, a U.S. official said Sunday.

Friday's bombing outside the Imam Ali Mosque, considered sacred by Shiites, killed at least 83 people, Najaf Gov. Haydar Al-Mayali told reporters Sunday at police headquarters there.

Among those killed was Shiite Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim, spiritual leader of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and thousands of Shiites gathered Sunday in Baghdad to hold a symbolic funeral procession for him.

The FBI already has a team in Iraq investigating the bombings of the Jordanian Embassy and the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad.

The decision to include the FBI in the Najaf investigation was made by the Coalition Provisional Authority, led by L. Paul Bremer, the civilian U.S. administrator in Iraq. No details about the FBI's role were released.

Al-Mayali told reporters the blast was caused by two car bombs, not one as had been reported previously, packed with a total of 1,540 pounds (700 kilograms) of explosives.

As many as 6,000 Shiite mourners crowded the streets in the town of Kathimiya, before heading to Baghdad's al-Doura neighborhood, where they boarded buses to Karbala, about 60 miles (96 kilometers) south of the Iraqi capital.

The mourners then headed to Najaf, where they began arriving Monday.

Women -- who are usually banned from participating in Shiite funerals -- took part in Sunday's procession, which was led by members of the slain cleric's family, including his brother, Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim.

In addition to praying, many mourners shouted protests against the former Sunni-dominated Baath Party regime led by Saddam Hussein. Some Iraqis have blamed the attack on Saddam loyalists. (Shiites mourn bomb victims) (Map: Religious and ethnic groups in Iraq)

Funerals for many of the victims took place Saturday, beginning a three-day mourning period announced by the U.S.-appointed Iraq governing council.

Truckloads of Shiites from Baghdad, Basra and other areas arrived in Najaf overnight to participate in the mourning.

Workers continued to search for al-Hakim's remains. His bodyguards said only the cleric's ring, turban and watch had been found in the rubble.

The bodies of 52 victims have been claimed by relatives and the others have not been identified, Al-Mayali said.

Officials had put the death toll at more than 100, but some victims might have been counted more than once. (Gallery: Scenes from the aftermath)

Najaf police are holding no more than five suspects in the bombing -- all of them Iraqis -- who are linked to Saddam's regime, Al-Mayali said.

That assessment appeared to be at odds with previous statements from other sources, who said as many as a dozen people were being questioned.

A statement from a coalition liaison with Iraqi police told CNN police were holding two "non-Iraqi Arabs."

Al-Mayali said police were still looking into possible links between the detainees and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network.

The governor said 400 Iraqi police in training will soon take up positions around the Imam Ali Mosque as a permanent security force.

U.S. troops joined Iraqi security at checkpoints on the outskirts of Najaf, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) south of Baghdad, but the square outside the mosque was under the control of militias likely connected to al-Hakim's Shiite group.

Ayatollah Ali Sistani, another important Shiite cleric, called for a "unified Iraqi security force" to take over and keep volatile emotions from rising out of control. Militias, he said, should not be controlling the holy city.

Prominent Shiite politician Mohammed Baher al-Alum, first chairman of the U.S.-appointed Iraq governing council, announced Saturday he was suspending his membership to protest the bombing.

Al-Hakim returned to Najaf in May to the cheers of thousands of Shiites after a 23-year exile in Iran. He called for a democratic Iraq but rejected a secular government, saying it would not respect Islam.

The ayatollah, who did not support the war that ousted Saddam, was a vocal critic of the U.S. presence in Iraq after the war, saying in May it was in the "best interests of everyone for the Americans to leave as quickly as possible." (Fears raised of sectarian violence)

Tensions in the aftermath of the bombing continued to run high in Najaf on Sunday, as guards for another cleric, Muqtada Al Sadr, opened fire on a speeding car as it approached his house, fearing another attack.

Instead, the guards killed a pregnant woman and her son, the driver, who was rushing his mother to a hospital to give birth.

Friday's bombing was the latest in a series of attacks on Shiite leaders.

Council to appoint Cabinet

A spokesman for the Iraq governing council on Monday said a "decision has been taken by the governing council" to appoint a 25-member ministerial Cabinet -- the next step in the country's move to a post-Saddam government.

According to Ahmed al-Mukhtar, a ceremony to officially name the Cabinet and the ministries to be filled is expected Wednesday.

2 U.S. soldiers wounded

Two U.S. soldiers were wounded when their convoy came under attack west of the town of Hisar Ahmad, 19 miles (30 kilometers) southwest of Kirkuk, a military official said Sunday.

Eight attackers fired rocket-propelled grenades and small arms at the soldiers Saturday, said spokesman Lt. Col. Bill McDonald of the 4th Infantry Division in Tikrit. The soldiers returned fire, killing six Iraqis, wounding one and detaining another.

CNN correspondent Ben Wedeman contributed to this report.


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