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Wedeman: Blame flying like bullets in Najaf

CNN correspondent Ben Wedeman
CNN correspondent Ben Wedeman

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NAJAF, Iraq (CNN) -- One of Shiite Islam's top clerics died Friday after a massive car bomb exploded outside the Imam Ali Mosque at the end of Friday prayers, officials in Najaf, Iraq, said.

The blast killed the Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim, the Shiite leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, Shiite officials said. Dozens of other people were also killed.

CNN anchor Heidi Collins discussed the incident with correspondent Ben Wedeman in Najaf.

WEDEMAN: I can tell you that the level of anger in Najaf is extremely high. This is really the equivalent of a bomb going off at St. Peter's Square in the Vatican outside Sunday mass. And the Imam Ali Mosque where the bomb went off is Shiite Islam's most holy shrine.

Hundreds were coming out of that mosque after Friday prayers, Friday being the Muslim holy day, . . . causing an incredible amount of carnage given the amount of people there. We are still at this hour, nine hours after the blast went off, we are hearing occasionally ambulances going by, people are still digging through the ruins outside the mosque, looking for dead, looking for survivors.

As I said, high emotions in a very difficult situation here in Najaf.

COLLINS: You say that people are obviously very angry, but who are they directing their anger at, at this moment?

WEDEMAN: Well, today they were directing their anger at just about everybody who showed up on the scene. Of course, we had our car, [which] was surrounded by an angry mob, several of whom were beating -- several of the members of the mob were beating on our car. We heard other stories of cameramen being beat up.

They are angry, for instance, at the Arabic satellite news channels, who they blame for traditionally siding with Saddam Hussein, for not paying much attention to Shiite concerns. In fact, one of our -- some of our colleagues, our crew members were in the hospital. People refused to talk to them unless they could prove that they were not from the Arabic satellite news channels. So those are the focus of some of the anger -- some of the anger just on the ground.

But they're angry at the United States. The coalition forces, they say, have not provided adequate security, have not stabilized the situation to the point where this sort of bombing would not occur. They're blaming the Israelis who they believe are conducting nefarious plots against Iraq. They are blaming the remnants of the old regime of Saddam Hussein.

So the blame is flying like bullets in the atmosphere here. But nobody really knows at this point, as I said, just nine hours after the bomb went off, who could have been behind it.

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