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Iraqi Shiite leader calls for Islamic democracy

Ayatollah seeks religious state 'not at the exclusion of others'

Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim, leader of the largest Shiite opposition group, delivers a speech during a public gathering in Nasiriya, Iraq.
Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim, leader of the largest Shiite opposition group, delivers a speech during a public gathering in Nasiriya, Iraq.

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SPECIAL REPORT
• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide

NAJAF, Iraq (CNN) -- The leader of Iraq's largest Shiite Muslim group called Tuesday for a democratic government that represents the country's disparate factions.

Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, head of the Iran-based Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, said his group does not want a secular government "because a secular government doesn't respect religion."

The group wants "a democratic government that respects Islam," he said.

Al-Hakim returned to Iraq on Saturday after 23 years in exile. Tens of thousands of supporters greeted him, and the celebrations continued Monday as he visited his birthplace, the holy city of Najaf. (On the scene)

U.S. officials have said they are concerned the Shiite leader might push for a theocracy similar to the one in Iran.

Shiite Muslims form the majority of Iraq's population and were oppressed under Saddam Hussein's rule. Al-Hakim, with a great deal of influence among Shiites, has repeatedly called for the U.S.-led coalition to leave Iraq.

"it is not in the interests of the U.S. troops nor in the interest of the Iraqi people nor in the interest of the future relationship between the two for the U.S. troops to stay," Al-Hakim said Tuesday.

It is in the "best interests of everyone for the Americans to leave as quickly as possible," he said.

In a speech Saturday to a huge crowd of supporters, al-Hakim called for a "modern Islamic" system in Iraq.

On Tuesday, he said, "As a supreme council we call for an Islamic state because we are Islamic" -- but "not at the exclusion of others."

He also called for freedoms to be protected, political parties instituted and "free media."

Later, al-Hakim said "We want to establish constitutional institutions such as a parliament and civil institutions that act freely in society."

An Iraqi national government "should have been set up immediately after Saddam's fall," he complained, adding that "the invasion has created a power vacuum -- this could result in a social explosion."

Although his organization long supported the overthrow of Saddam's regime, it did not support the war "because we thought [Saddam's ouster] could be achieved through other methods," he said. His group still believes military action was "a mistake," he said.

U.S.: Second suspected mobile weapons lab found

U.S. forces in northern Iraq have found a second suspected mobile chemical weapons laboratory, an American military official told CNN on Tuesday.

There is "pretty conclusive evidence" that the trailer was a mobile chemical weapons lab, the official said.

The trailer was found Saturday near Mosul by members of the U.S. 101st Airborne Division at a former missile production facility that had been extensively looted.

The trailer contained refrigeration units and piping, compatible with chemical weapons production. What was believed to be a spraying device was found nearby, the source said. (Full story)

U.S. officials said Monday that the Iraqi scientist whom U.S. Central Command calls "Dr. Germ" is in custody. Rihab Taha al-Azawi al-Tikriti, a British-educated Iraqi, was No. 197 on Central Command's wanted list.

She could prove instrumental in leading U.S. and British forces to any biological, chemical and nuclear weapons the former regime possessed, officials said.

U.S. officials also said Ibrahim Ahmad al Sattar Muhammad al-Tikriti, former armed forces chief of staff under Saddam's regime, is in U.S. custody.

The three of hearts from the deck of cards picturing the 55 most-wanted members of the deposed regime is also in U.S. custody. Fadil Muhammad Gharib, who was the Baath Party chairman for the Babil District and a Baath Party regional militia commander, was captured several days ago and is in the custody of U.S. officials in Iraq, U.S. defense officials told CNN.

Gharib is also known as Gharib Fazel Al-Mashaikh and is listed as No. 28 on U.S. Central Command's most-wanted list.

Also now in U.S. custody is Hamad Yussef Hamadiis, the former minister of culture in Iraq, who is not on the list of 55 but is on the unpublished list of more than 200 wanted former regime members, defense officials said.

Other developments

L. Paul Bremer, left, joins retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner in talking with reporters at Baghdad's airport.
L. Paul Bremer, left, joins retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner in talking with reporters at Baghdad's airport.

• Former British Cabinet member Clare Short called on Prime Minister Tony Blair to prepare to "hand over" to a new leader. Her comment came a day after she quit her post over the prime minister's Iraq policy. Short, the former international development secretary, said the governing Labor Party should organize an "elegant succession" -- apparently from Blair to Chancellor Gordon Brown. (Full story)

• The new chief administrator of the U.S.-led reconstruction effort in Iraq began his first full day on the job Tuesday in Baghdad, where the security and humanitarian situations continue to cause concern. L. Paul Bremer, who took over for retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, acknowledged that a "difficult task" lies ahead. "We are trying to rebuild a country that has been under a despot for 30 years," he said. Garner has done an "outstanding job," Bremer added. "We intend to have an effective, efficient and well-organized handover." (Full story)

• U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Tommy Franks -- credited for coming up with winning military strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan -- has turned down an offer to be Army chief of staff, the highest job in the service, officials told CNN. (Full story)

-- CNN correspondent Jane Arraf contributed to this report.

EDITOR'S NOTE: CNN's policy is to not report information that puts operational security at risk.


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