Iraqis urged to defend independence
[The Daily Mirror, UK - Apr 18 2003]:
The exiled leader of the biggest Iraqi opposition group has called on Iraqis to defend their country's independence.
He is urging them to converge in the Shiite holy city of Karbala to oppose a US-led interim administration.
Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution of Iraq, chose the southern Iraqi city and the date -- next Tuesday -- because of their connections to Hussein, the grandson of Islam's Prophet Muhammad and one of Shiite Islam's most revered heroes.
"I call on Iraqis to converge in Karbala to oppose any sort of foreign domination and support establishment of an Iraqi government that protects freedom, independence and justice for all Iraqis," al-Hakim was quoted by state-run Tehran television as saying.
Council spokesman Abu Eslam al-Saqir confirmed that the call had been issued.
"To the Iraqi people, US domination is no better than the dictatorship of the ousted brutal regime of Saddam Hussein," al-Saqir told The Associated Press.
Al-Hakim will return to Iraq from Iran soon, his younger brother said, a move that could galvanise his followers. US officials have expressed strong concerns about Al-Hakim's Supreme Council, claiming it is supported by the Iranian government and fearing it wants to create an Iranian-style Islamic government in Iraq.
The Supreme Council -- which claims thousands of its fighters are ready to take up arms -- boycotted this week's meeting of Iraqi opposition groups to begin planning for Iraq's future government, claiming that the US's role as organiser "harms Iraq's independence".
The meeting called in Karbala would mark the 40th day after the anniversary of the death of Hussein, who is seen by Shiites as a symbol of freedom who sacrificed himself to resist corruption and tyranny. He was killed in a battle on the plains of Karbala in 680AD, and his tomb is in the city.
Shiite Muslims traditionally gather to mark the 40th day after a death.