Thousands of people have flooded the centre of the Iraqi city of Kerbala, ahead of the funeral of the Shi’ite powerbroker Abdul Aziz al-Hakim.
He was one of Iraq’s most influential political figures and his death comes amid growing disarray among Iraqi Shi’ites. Just this week al-Hakim’s party launched a new group for January’s elections which excludes Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a former ally. Al-Hakim helped Iraqi Shi’ites re-emerge after years of oppression under Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-led regime. He had been treated for cancer in Tehran, and Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki flew to Baghdad to present his country’s condolences. Security has been stepped up in Najaf where al-Hakim will be buried. His death has revealed splits among Iraqi Shi’ites and fears of increased violence ahead of January’s vote. On Saturday morning, two bombs in northern Iraq killed at least 15 people and wounded many more. A suicide car bomber attacked a police station in Shirqat, north of Baghdad, killing nine. At least six perished in Sinjar, northwest of the capital.