Brother of Slain Cleric Vows to 'Defend Iraqi Interests'

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The increasingly powerful brother of slain Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim (search) said Wednesday that Shiites (search) would not take up arms against the U.S.-led occupation, but suggested his group's militia had been rearmed -- in defiance of American orders -- "to defend ourselves."

Abel-Aziz al-Hakim (search), a member of the U.S.-picked Governing Council, blamed the huge car bombing in Najaf (search) that killed his brother on "enemies of Iraq," who he said were followers of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein trying to destabilize the country.

The blast Friday at the Imam Ali mosque (search), the holiest Shiite shrine in Iraq, killed between 85 and 125 people. Police say a number of Iraqis and foreigners with admitted ties to Al Qaeda have been arrested.

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

Al-Hakim succeeded his slain brother as chief of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI).

When asked if the Badr Brigade, the armed wing of SCIRI, was back in service, al-Hakim said: "The Badr Brigade is more and more organized and will defend Iraqi interests and will share in the rebuilding of Iraq."

U.S. troops ordered the brigade disarmed and disbanded early in the occupation.

Al-Hakim, while standing by his blistering eulogy at his brother's funeral in which he blamed the Americans for failing to secure the country and allowing the assassination, promised to continue cooperating with the Americans.

"We will continue to work with the Governing Council. We will continue rebuilding Iraq. We will continue to establish justice and a new independent Iraq," al-Hakim said.

Nevertheless, he called for "an end to the occupation of Iraq and for Iraq to gain independence as soon as possible."