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Death of Iraqi cleric setback to U.S. policy

Tribune editorial staff

The death of Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim

by a car bomb Friday was more than a tragic blow to the Iraqis -- it was a setback

to the Iraq policy of the United States.

The bomb that killed one of Iraq's most prominent clerics

and dozens of worshippers outside Shiite Islam’s holiest shrine in Najaf produced even more fear than the attack on U.N. headquarters in Baghdad the week prior.

The bombers want to show the world that the United States and its allies cannot restore order in Iraq. They want to prove that American troops cannot control the country or prevent the murder of its people.

More importantly, though, they have turned Iraq's Shiite majority -- which has been tolerant of U.S. occupation -- against the Americans. On Wednesday, Abel-Aziz al-Hakim, a member of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council,

said that Shiites would not take up arms against the U.S.-led occupation, but suggested the group's militia had been rearmed -- in defiance of American orders -- to defend the Shiites against future attacks.

The

killers chose a target they knew would shock the Iraqi people. The murder of such a prominent figure makes Iraqis feel that no one is safe from assassination -- even in the presence of Americans.

''If the allied forces are unable to take actions against such crimes, we will defend ourselves,'' al-Hakim told reporters Wednesday. He also called for

''an end to the occupation of Iraq and for Iraq to gain independence as soon as possible.''

The Bush administration, under the criticism of many countries, have to either commit more troops and resources to the cause in Iraq or simply back out and let the Iraqi people sort out their problems. U.S. officials must do whatever is necessary to head off the terrorists and protect the Iraqis

and their shrines.

As long as a U.S. presence is in Iraq and terrorists acts are carried out, America will take the blame.