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Iraqi Shi'ites Stage Anti-U.S. Rally in Baghdad

"The Americans are occupiers and aggressors," Ali said, opposite the gates of the vast presidential palace compound now used by the U.S.-led rulers. "They were supposed to free us from the oppressor, now they are only occupying us."
Iraqi Shi'ite demonstrators march towards the interim U.S.-led administration's headquarters, in the republican palace area of Baghdad, June 21, 2003. The protesters were demanding more representation in Iraq's political affairs. Photo by Akram Saleh/Reuters

Iraqi Shi'ites Stage Anti-U.S. Rally in Baghdad
Sat June 21, 2003 07:17 AM ET

By Michael Georgy

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Chanting and waving banners, about 2,000 Shi'ite Muslims protested outside the compound of the U.S.-led administration in Baghdad on Saturday, demanding an end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

"We want to form a national government," said one of the demonstrators, Sayyid Ali. "We want freedom and justice."

The rally was organized by Shi'ite clerics in Baghdad's Sadr City slum district -- once known as Saddam City, but renamed by its two million Shi'ite residents after the U.S.-British invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein on April 9.

"The Americans are occupiers and aggressors," Ali said, opposite the gates of the vast presidential palace compound now used by the U.S.-led rulers. "They were supposed to free us from the oppressor, now they are only occupying us."

There was no repeat of the violence that erupted on the same spot on Wednesday, when U.S. troops killed two Iraqis during a protest by stone-throwing former soldiers thrown out of work by a U.S. decree dissolving the Iraqi military.

"Under Saddam Hussein, we had no medicine. It was all in this palace," said Mohammed Obeid, among a group of men clustered under a tree to shelter from the fierce sun. "Now it's the same thing, except the Americans are in the palace."

The demonstrators held banners that read: "Iraqis should build Iraq" and "We call on the Hawza to form an interim government," referring to the influential Shi'ite religious seminary in the holy city of Najaf, south of Baghdad.

Some protesters carried posters of Shi'ite cleric Ayatollah Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr, who according to his followers was killed by Saddam's agents in 1998.

Sadr's successor, Ayatollah Ali Sistani, does not advocate an active political role for Shi'ite clerics, but is known to be unhappy with the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq.

Sayyid Ali said he opposed U.S.-British plans to appoint a 25- to 30-member interim political council to help rule Iraq.

Top U.S. administrator Paul Bremer has said he wants to create such a body next month. He has also outlined plans for a constitutional assembly to begin drafting a new constitution ahead of elections for a fully sovereign Iraqi government.

The protesters climbed into trucks and drove away chanting, after receiving assurances that Shi'ite representatives would meet with U.S. administrators to discuss their demands.

They want the quick formation of an Iraqi government, Hawza participation in any administration, release of any prisoners held without charge and guarantees that senior officials from Saddam's government will remain in prison.

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