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Shiites protest alleged Jordanian role in bombing

Saturday, March 19, 2005

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Shiite demonstrators raised the Iraqi flag over Jordan's Embassy on Friday after more than 2,000 people marched through Baghdad demanding an apology for the alleged involvement of a Jordanian in a suicide bombing that killed 125 people.

The protest -- the largest in a week of mounting anger -- came two days after the leader of the clergy-backed United Iraqi Alliance claimed during Iraq's first National Assembly meeting that neighboring Jordan wasn't doing enough to prevent terrorists from slipping into Iraq.

Also Friday, a U.S. soldier was killed when attackers fired on an American patrol in Baghdad, the military said. At least 1,519 members of the U.S. military have died since the Iraq war started two years ago, according to an Associated Press count.

U.S. and Iraqi forces also clashed with gunmen in Ramadi, a city 70 miles west of Baghdad, after militants attacked a government building. No casualties were immediately reported.

Hundreds of protesters converged on the Jordanian Embassy after finishing Friday prayers at three Shiite mosques around Baghdad. They burned Israeli and Jordanian flags and shouted slogans against Jordan's King Abdullah II, such as "Take your embassy away. We do not want to see you!" and "There's no God but God, Abdullah is the enemy of God!"

Three men in green camouflage, including one wearing a black balaclava, were later seen on an embassy roof raising an Iraqi flag on a makeshift flagpole. Another pole that previously held the Jordanian standard was bare.

Shiites have staged smaller protests in recent days after the Iraqi government on Monday condemned celebrations allegedly held by the family of a Jordanian man suspected of carrying out a Feb. 28 terrorist attack that killed 125 people in Hillah, 60 miles south of Baghdad. Nearly all the victims were Shiite police and army recruits.

The Jordanian daily Al-Ghad reported that Raed Mansour al-Banna carried out the attack, the single deadliest of the Iraqi insurgency. The paper later issued a correction, however, saying it was not known where in Iraq al-Banna carried out an assault.

"The Jordanian king must apologize to the people of Hillah and the people of Iraq," said Qasim Hussein, a Shiite cleric at the protest. "Blood money must be paid to the victims of Hillah."

Iraqi police and special forces gathered outside the embassy but failed to prevent demonstrators from reaching the building. The protesters later dispersed; no violence was reported.

A number of Iraqi politicians, including interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, have demanded explanations from the Jordanian government.

Jordanian government spokeswoman Asma Khader said her country condemned all terrorism and reconfirmed Jordan's solidarity with the Iraqi people.

"The government condemns strongly any attack against the Iraqi people, in particular the hideous massacre of Hillah which killed scores of innocent people," Khader said. "We have put intensive measures to track those terrorists and there is security coordination with Iraq to protect the borders of both countries."

The protesters' anger also seemed to have been fueled by comments late last year by King Abdullah, a Sunni, criticizing the rising Shiite power in war-ravaged Iraq.

Shiites comprise about 60 percent of Iraq's 26 million people, while Sunni Arabs make up about 20 percent of the population.

Arab governments repeatedly have expressed concern that the growing Shiite political power in Iraq would threaten Sunni dominance of the region. Shiites won a majority of seats in Iraq's new parliament elected after Jan. 30 elections.

"In spite of the stubbornness of all Arabs -- Shiites are holding their chin up," chanted the protesters.

Meanwhile, officials said the United Iraqi Alliance, led by Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, and a Kurdish coalition agreed that the National Assembly should reconvene March 26 to elect a president, who will help nominate a prime minister.

The latest deal came amid reports that not all Kurds were satisfied with assurances given by the Shiite-dominated United Iraqi alliance over the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and a Kurdish militia.

In other developments:

-- Minas Ibrahim al-Yousifi, an Iraqi-born Swede kidnapped in Iraq, was freed Friday after more than a month in captivity, Swedish and Iraqi officials said. His family said earlier that the kidnappers demanded $3 million ransom and a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, but the terms of his release were not known.

-- A coalition patrol collided Thursday with a civilian vehicle, killing three Iraqis, near Tikrit, the military said in a statement.

-- Two blasts, believed to be caused by car bombs, hit a U.S. military convoy driving through Haditha, 130 miles northwest of Baghdad, witnesses said. U.S. officials had no immediate comment.

-- Saboteurs bombed a domestic oil pipeline that links an oil field in the northern city of Kirkuk to the main refinery in Beiji, said Iraqi army officer Sa'ad Ahmed Al-Obeidi. The attack in Midhrban, 10 miles north of Beiji, sent up a black cloud of smoke.


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