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[casi] U.S. Troops Fix Bayonets Against Iraqi Crowd

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July 20,2003[1]

By Miral Fahmy

NAJAF, Iraq (Reuters) - U.S. Marines fixed bayonets on Sunday to
disperse an angry crowd of 10,000 Iraqi Shi'ites in the holy city
of Najaf after tempers flared over rumors of U.S. harassment of a
radical cleric.

Marchers dispersed after two hours but some of the Shi'ite
cleric's supporters warned of an "uprising" in the city if the
Americans failed to pull out within three days.

"If they don't leave, they will face a popular uprising," said
Sayed Razak al-Moussawi, an aide to the anti-U.S. cleric Moqtada

Protesters presented the U.S. forces with a list of demands.

Under a fierce sun, aides to Sadr struggled to restrain his
supporters and the show of force by the Marines halted the march
on the U.S. administration office in the dusty and impoverished
city, 160 km (100 miles) south of Baghdad.

In heated negotiations, nose-to-nose with one of Sadr's aides,
the U.S. commander in Najaf, Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Conlin,
denied reports his men had surrounded Sadr's house on Saturday
and warned his men would respond if threatened.

Passions sparked by the incident were indicative of problems
facing U.S. troops among the long-oppressed Shi'ite majority.
Attacks on U.S. troops since the fall of Saddam Hussein (news -
web sites) have mostly been by Sunni Muslims.

Many protesters were bussed into Najaf from Baghdad's poor
Shi'ite bastion, Sadr -- formerly Saddam -- City. Others rode in
on battered pick-up trucks and even ambulances.

"Moqtada, have no fear, your army of volunteers is here," they
chanted, rhythmically beating their chests in a traditional
Shi'ite ritual. "We would sacrifice our lives for you."

The demonstration set off from the gold-domed Imam Ali mosque.
Carrying banners, the crowd circled the mosaic-encrusted shrine,
inspiring worshippers to join in their political chants.

"Long live Sadr; America and its government in Iraq (news - web
sites) are infidels," cried Ayyad Abdullah, who like many
protesters, wore the white shroud in which Muslims are buried.
"Moqtada can give the Shi'ites everything they want. We'd happily
die for him."

Conlin said he believed Sadr had limited support in Najaf, where
other, more senior religious figures are based.

Sadr, a young cleric with limited religious authority, denounced
the U.S. occupation of Iraq in a sermon on Friday and condemned
U.S. efforts to launch self-rule by a new Governing Council.

Copyright  2003 Reuters Limited.

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