In a telegram sent by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Pope expressed his sympathy and promised his prayer for those affected by the terrorist act.

Likewise, he entrusts "the victims to the love and mercy of God, invoking divine consolation for those who suffer," Vatican Radio reported.

In the message, the Holy Father condemns "all forms of violence and the shedding of blood" and renews his call "to the followers of the religions of the world and persons of good will to reject every kind of aggression."

The Pope invites all to work for a "new era of peace and justice in which these offenses against human life and dignity will have no place."

Today in Najaf, thousands of people attended the funeral of Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim. Al-Hakim, a distinguished leader of the Shiite majority in Iraq, had favored a cautious cooperation with the occupation forces.

The U.S.-backed Governing Council of Iraq appointed a Cabinet of 25 ministers on Monday. Al-Hakim's brother Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim is a member of the council.