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August 29, 2009

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Tension at Iraq funeral

THE body of a revered Shiite leader arrived yesterday for burial amid tight security that caused portions of the Iraqi capital to be sealed off, signaling fears the funeral procession may be targeted by insurgents to stoke sectarian tensions.

The body of Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim was met by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and hundreds of political and religious officials, marking the second half of a two-day funeral procession through the Shiite heartland that began in Iran and has brought thousands to the streets in mourning.

Al-Hakim, who died on Wednesday of lung cancer in Tehran, was a symbol for many of the re-emergence of Iraq's Shiite political majority after decades of Saddam Hussein's Sunni-led rule.

He worked with Americans following the 2003 US-led invasion even while maintaining his ties to Iran, where he lived in exile for 20 years.

"We have lost you while we are undergoing a delicate and sensitive period, and in a time when we are in need of strong men with experience and who have made great sacrifices," al-Maliki said, speaking to al-Hakim's casket shortly after it was lowered onto the tarmac at Baghdad International Airport.


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