Peaceful protest moves through Baghdad

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Thousands of Shiite Muslims protested peacefully Monday night outside the headquarters of the U.S.-led coalition in Baghdad, charging the occupation force was lax on security and did too little to stop a weekend of ethnic bloodshed in the north and the bombing at the house of an important Muslim Shiite cleric in the south.

The Baghdad protest moved, after about an hour, to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan office in Baghdad. The protesters alleged the Kurdish organization started the fighting Friday night in Tuz Kharmato and continued attacks on Turkomen tribesmen the next day in Kirkuk, 115 miles north of Baghdad. Eleven people died.

The protesters dispersed quietly, ahead of the 11 p.m. Baghdad curfew.

Kurds blamed

The Baghdad protesters, mainly from the Sadr City slum, had sided with the Turkomen, also Shiites. A PUK spokesman in Baghdad told The Associated Press the violence was the work of Saddam Hussein sympathizers trying to complicate the already tense security situation in the country by adding the specter of ethnic and religious violence to the mix. Kurds are predominantly Sunni Muslims.

"They are trying to move the fighting (between Kurds and Turkomen) from Kirkuk and Tuz into Baghdad," said Adel Murad, a PUK spokesman.

In Najaf on Monday, mourners buried three guards who were killed in a bomb attack Sunday on the house of Mohammed Saeed al-Hakim, one of Iraq's most important Muslim Shiite clerics. The bomb, a gas cylinder wired to explode, was placed along the outside wall of the house. A number of al-Hakim's family members were wounded. He suffered cuts on his neck.

More than a thousand mourners jammed the streets in Najaf calling for revenge against the attackers, whose identities were not known. The demonstrators blamed U.S. forces for failing to provide security in the town.

Iraqi newspapers reported last week that Mohammed Saeed al-Hakim, who was under house arrest during the last days of Saddam's rule, had received threats against his life.

In Amman, Jordan, on Monday, members of Iraq's U.S.-backed Governing Council asked skeptical Arab leaders to judge it by its actions, and promised to make way for an elected government as quickly as possible.

Council members are on a tour of the Gulf region to bolster official Arab support for the interim authority's role in post-Saddam Iraq.

"The council is a legitimate step and nobody has claimed it will be a permanent situation, but a temporary one which will end soon, once elections are held," the council's rotating president, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, said after talks with Jordanian Prime Minister Ali Abul-Ragheb and Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher.

Muasher said Jordan wants to cooperate with the council and "delivered its wish in providing all means of support for the Iraqi people until a permanent government is formed."

A delegation of 11 members of the U.S. Congress spoke with reporters in Baghdad on Monday afternoon under heavy security after meeting with coalition officials.

Rep. Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican, said the delegation was primarily concerned with ensuring there were enough personnel available to pacify the country.

"We discussed with coalition officials the issues of the number of personnel we have in Iraq and the issue of a time frame for troops to be here. We have an intelligence problem, and we have to deal with that. Our discussions will continue," Davis said. "We would be pleased to see international troops come to Iraq."

Also Monday, U.N. and American officials handed over to grieving families the bodies of seven Iraqis killed in last week's suicide bombing of U.N. Baghdad headquarters and declared the investigation and search at the site completed.

Twenty-three people, including top U.N. envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello, died in the blast and more than one hundred were injured. The officials said other people still were missing but would give no figures.

David Roath, an investigator with the U.S. Army, said American forces would continue to maintain security around the compound, even though the search and rescue missions were complete.

North of Baghdad, American forces captured seven men -- two suspected Saddam Hussein loyalists and five people believed responsible for attacks on American troops -- during a series of raids in the deposed leader's hometown, the military reported Monday.

Troops of the 4th Infantry Divison's 1st Battalion, 22nd Regiment carried out the raid. No Americans were hurt, military officials said.

The military said the captured men are suspected of organizing regional cells of the Fedayeen Saddam, a militia believed to be leading the guerrilla war against U.S. occupation forces.

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