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Huge Funeral Procession Moves Toward Najef

Huge Funeral Procession Moves Toward Najef

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(Baghdad, Iraq-AP) -- A huge funeral procession continues the march to Najaf, where a leading Shiite cleric will be buried.

Friday's bomb attack on the sacred Imam Ali shrine in Najaf killed Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim and 124 other people.

The procession began yesterday in Baghdad and went through the holy city of Karbala. It'll reach Najaf Tuesday.

Al-Hakim was killed shortly after delivering a sermon calling for Iraqi unity. He was a longtime opponent of Saddam and spent more than two decades in exile in Iran, returning only in May.

His remains are to be buried in Najaf on Tuesday when the funeral procession reaches the ayatollah's hometown.

Masses of Iraqi security forces were present Monday throughout Najaf, the country's holiest Shiite city, with 400 police preparing to take up positions around the mosque. U.S. forces could not be seen in the city proper and were believed manning checkpoints on roads into Najaf.

Black banners of mourning, some 150 feet long, were draped across the gold-domed mosque. People could be heard crying inside the shrine.

Meantime, a voice claiming to be Saddam Hussein's is heard on an audiotape denying he or his followers were involved in the mosque bombing. The C-I-A is trying to determine whether Saddam was actually the speaker. And the F-B-I says it'll help in the bombing investigation.

And Iraq's Governing Council is taking another step in claiming some power from the U-S-led coalition. The council has named its first Cabinet -- with 25 members mirroring the nation's ethnic and religious mix.

The council also abolished Iraq's notorious Information Ministry, which made exaggerated claims of Iraqi victories during the war.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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