Iraqi Muslims Protest Against Foreign Troops
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 18, 2003; 12:05 PM
Demonstrators Call for Establishment of an Islamic State
Tens of thousands of Iraqi Muslims took to the streets of Baghdad after Friday prayers today to demand the departure of U.S. and other foreign troops and the establishment of an Islamic state.
The demonstration was peaceful, news agencies reported, but it provided dramatic new evidence that the ouster of Saddam Hussein's secular government has unleashed pent-up religious sentiment, especially among the country's long-repressed Shiite Muslim majority. In the absence of strong government, Islam often provides the organizing principle, and the civic institutions, of Muslim societies.
Converging from several mosques, the demonstrators carried banners with such slogans as "No Bush, No Saddam, Yes to Islam," and "No to America, No to Secular State, Yes to Islamic State." Organizers said the demonstrators included both Shiite Muslims and Sunnis, who represent the majority branch of Islam is most Muslim countries but a minority in Iraq.
"We are Sunni and Shiite brothers, we will not sell this nation," some of them chanted, according to the Reuters news agency.
Shortly afterward, a cable television network based in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, showed startling tape of a Baghdad demonstration of an entirely different kind: cheering young men crowding joyfully around a beret-clad figure said to be Saddam Hussein. The TV network said the video was shot in Baghdad on April 9, the same day as the famous statue-toppling scene that marked the downfall of his rule, and two days after U.S. warplanes dropped four huge bombs onto a Baghdad building where Hussein was believed to be.
In the video footage, the man said to be Hussein is shown smiling as he walks among a crowd of cheering supporters, many of them brandishing rifles, and then climbing onto the hood of a car to greet them.
There was no way to confirm independently that the person shown was Hussein, although the resemblance was strong and the man shown was accompanied by another who appeared to be Qusay Hussein, the deposed leader's son. Nor was there any way to know when the video was shot, or why -- if the April 9 date is accurate -- Abu Dhabi TV waited nine days to release it.
The video was said to have been shot near the Adhamiya mosque in northern Baghdad. If genuine, and if shot on April 9, the video would appear to confirm the accounts of residents of that neighborhood, who have told journalists that Hussein was there for about half an hour on that fateful Wednesday, and then drove away in a convoy without saying where he was going.
The condition and whereabouts of Hussein and his two sons are unknown. They are at the top of a list of 55 military officers and officials of the Baath Party, the former ruling party, whom U.S. military authorities are trying to detain. The capture of one of those 55 was announced today by U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Vincent K. Brooks at the U.S. Central Command's daily briefing in Qatar.
According to Brooks, Samir Abdelaziz al-Najim, a senior Baath official and a veteran comrade of Hussein, was handed over to U.S. forces last night by Iraqi Kurds near Mosul, in northern Iraq. Najim, a former oil minister and ambassador to several countries, was identified as a senior member of the Baath Party's hierarchy and party boss in eastern Baghdad.
He was the Four of Clubs in the deck of playing cards depicting the 55 wanted officials that U.S. military authorities distributed last week. He is the fourth of the 55 to be taken into U.S. custody, after two of Hussein's half brothers and his senior science adviser.
"All the members of that list of 55 have useful information about the inner workings, the inside of this regime, and, more importantly, some of its actions and decisions that have been taken over time," Brooks said. "That relates to some of the atrocities committed against the population. That relates to weapons of mass destruction. That relates to links to terrorism. All these things we believe we'll find as we find these additional key regime leaders."
Brooks declined to say where the four are being held, or under what conditions. Military officials are building a tent encampment in southern Iraq where prisoners of war are to be held, but senior political figures are unlikely to be sent there. The prison encampment has a planned capacity of 24,000, but so far the United States and its allies have reported the capture of fewer than 8000.
A group of more than 900 was released today, the Pentagon announced, after military authorities determined that they were noncombatants who had gotten caught up in the fighting.
One mystery the 55 senior officials might unravel is why no warplane of the Iraqi Air Force ever took off during more three weeks of combat. Australian military authorities announced today that their troops had found 51 Mig fighter planes hidden at an airfield in western Iraq.
Lt. Col. Mark Elliott told reporters in Qatar that the some of the planes were buried, others were hidden in buildings or under camouflage netting. They were apparently undamaged and could have engaged U.S. British planes, which were virtually unchallenged as they pummeled Iraqi troops and defensive installations.
Last week Brooks reported that U.S. troops had found another 15 undamaged combat planes at an airfield near Baghdad. More will probably be uncovered as U.S. and allied troops continue to enter new areas of Iraq, Brooks said today.
Much of his briefing focused on the urgency of restoring electricity throughout Iraq. A lack of electricity has crippled the country's hospitals, communications networks and water pumping stations. Partial service has been restored in the northern cities of Irbil, Dohuk and Sulaymaniyah and in some parts of Baghdad, Brooks said, but full service in Baghdad is still some days away, at least. He said a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers team headed by Brig. Gen. Steven Hawkins has begun to inspect Baghdad's power plants, which are not functioning even though mostly undamaged in the war.
"The team met with [Iraqi] power board members and technicians, encouraging them to return to work and to restore power to the people of Baghdad.," Brooks said. "As of today, in Baghdad, six diesel-operated plants are online and generating power, and the south Baghdad power plant has resumed operations."
Asked about the religious demonstrations in Baghdad, Brooks said, "We think people will have the right to demonstrate in a free Iraq," which is the position taken earlier by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other senior U.S. officials.
"While there will be some that want to see a departure of the [U.S.-led military] coalition, some would like to have that so they can try to return power to the way it was," Brooks said. "Others may want to [demonstrate] just to remind us that this is Iraq for the Iraqi people. And we really don't need a reminder on that. We're quite aware of that and we respect that."
Nevertheless, there are growing indications that the new freedom of Iraqi Shiites to assert themselves politically and make common cause with Shiites in other countries could have regional implications that might not be favorable to U.S. interests, especially in relations with Iran.
A United Nations aid convoy carrying drinking water entered parched southern Iraq today from Iran, where Shiite Islam is the official religion. It was the first such traffic since the two countries fought a devastating war in the 1980s.
And in Beirut, Sheik Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah -- a senior Shiite theologian and spiritual leader of the Hezbollah guerrilla group -- urged Iraqis to rebuild their country on their own, without "occupation" by the United States and Britain. "Remember that your country was a free country that has resisted occupation throughout history," he urged Iraqis. "Don't let anyone permit the occupation."
The process by which Iraq's political future will be determined and the U.S. military role ended has not yet been defined. In his first public appearance in Baghdad today, opposition leader Ahmed Chalabi -- whom many Iraqis believe to be Washington's choice as the country's new leader --said he expects an Iraqi interim authority to take over most government functions from the U.S. military in "a matter of weeks rather than months."
Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress, predicted that the political process of establishing a permanent new government under a new constitution would take two years, but was vague about how an interim government would be established, the Associated Press reported.
Anti-US Protest Flares in Baghdad After Prayers
By Hassan Hafidh
Friday 18 April 2003
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Muslims poured out of mosques and into the streets of Baghdad, calling for an Islamic state to be established, after the first Friday prayers since U.S. forces took control of the Iraqi capital.
Carrying Korans, prayer mats and banners, tens of thousands of people marched in the city's biggest protest since U.S. forces toppled Saddam Hussein more than a week ago -- a protest unthinkable under the former president.
"Leave our country, we want peace," read one banner aimed at the Americans who seized control nine days ago but failed to check looting, power blackouts and chaos in the aftermath.
"No Bush, No Saddam, Yes Yes to Islam," read another.
The organizers called themselves the Iraqi National United Movement and said they represented both Iraq's majority Shi'ite Muslims and powerful Sunnis.
Shi'ites, close to Iran's leaders, were marginalized under Saddam's Sunni-dominated government and some Iraqis have feared sectarian clashes could erupt.
"No Shi'ites, No Sunnis, Yes Yes for United Islam," another banner read.
The marchers came from several mosques and converged in a central district, Aadhamiya, for the peaceful protest.
One of the biggest columns came from Abi Hanifah Nouman mosque. Its dome was bombed during the recent war.
The imam, Ahmed al-Kubaisi, said in his sermon that the United States invaded Iraq to defend Israel, and also denied Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
"This is not the America we know, which respects international law, respects the right of people," he said.
His followers poured out chanting anti-U.S. slogans and waving banners that read "No to America. No to Secular State. Yes to Islamic State" and "We reject American hegemony."
Saddam's Baath Party, which ruled for three decades, was secular.
VOW TO FIGHT U.S. TROOPS WITH KNIVES
Standing on and all around a tanker truck crawling down the road, the men, some in turbans and with long beards, chanted: "We are Sunni and Shi'ite brothers, we will not sell this nation."
"We will give the American troops a few months to leave Iraq. If they do not, we will fight them with knives," one demonstrator said.
One woman watching the crowds said it would not be easy to force out the U.S. troops.
"What are these people talking about? They want to force the American troops to leave? It is too late to do so. The American troops dug in Baghdad and now it is difficult to get them out," said Um Huda, a housekeeper.
A statement issued by the movement urged Iraqis to oppose a "federal government that the United States wants to set up in the coming few days."
"Our movement wants every Iraqi to take part in rebuilding Iraq and set up a new modern state," said the statement, signed by Kubaisi.
In Tehran, one influential conservative Shi'ite cleric also called for the U.S.-led forces to leave.
"Unite with each other and send America and Britain out of your country. It is a duty for the Iraqi nation," Ayatollah Mohammad Emami-Kashani said in a sermon broadcast live on radio.
The United States has said a former U.S. general will lead an interim government in Iraq for an indefinite period but insists it will hand over control as soon as possible.
"People will have the right to demonstrate in a free Iraq," said U.S. Brigadier General Vincent Brooks. "There may be some that say, 'Get the coalition out of here'."
"We want the governance of Iraq to be handed over to, passed over to the Iraqi people as quickly as we can and we've made a commitment to not staying any longer than it takes to get those key actions completed," he told a news briefing on Friday.
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