Residents on Sunday said they are no longer prepared to wait for occupying American forces to restore law and order in the war-torn country.

Al-Hakim’s private militia, the Badr Brigades, reasserted their presence. 

“The Americans cannot give us security. It is the Iraqis who must do this and the Badr Brigades are Iraqi. This is their right,” said Brigade leader Sayyid Ali.

On Monday, al-Hakim’s remains will be transported to the city of Karbala for a similar procession, before his corpse is returned to Najaf for burial on Tuesday.

Al-Hakim was the leader Supreme Assembly for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SAIRI) who had lived in Iran in exile for the last 23 years. He was killed in Najaf, 180km south of Baghdad, when two cars exploded outside the mausoleum of Imam Ali, leaving at least 82 people dead and more than 100 injured on Friday. 

In Karbala, thousands more gathered in a square in preparation for a ceremony at a Shia shrine.

All roads to the shrine were closed to cars and Iranians were seen arriving for the ceremony.

Speaking a day before he was killed, al-Hakim criticised occupation forces for failing to prevent another bombing in Najaf, according to an interview with Egypt’s semi-official al-Ahram newspaper.

Al-Hakim said US troops had failed to heed warnings of an attack on Ayat Allah Muhammad Said al-Hakim, another Shia cleric who was injured in a bomb attack on 24 August.

Al-Hakim's followers vow revenge

“We told the Americans that their policy in Iraq was wrong and their dealings with the situation illogical,” he was quoted as saying.

Tensions rise

Iraqi police said they arrested a man on the Saudi border in connection with the Najaf attack, bringing to 19 the number of those detained after the blast.

Two Saudis believed to have ties to the al-Qaida network have confessed to the attack, said local authorities. 

Following the arrest of the two Saudis, the top Shia religious authority in Iraq, known as the Hawza, issued a warning that if the motive of the attack were sectarian there would be “dire consequences”. 

Tensions are high in the mainly Shia city. Bodyguards of Shia cleric Muqtada Sadr, who fiercely opposes the US occupation, opened fire on a car at a checkpoint, killing two people and wounding two others, said hospital sources.

A family was travelling to a medical clinic near Sadr’s home when they hit a checkpoint manned by Sadr’s men who opened fire when the car sped forward, said sources.