- The Washington Times - Friday, November 28, 2003

From combined dispatches

BAGHDAD — Hundreds of pro-coalition demonstrators chanting “yes to Iraq, no to terrorism” marched through Baghdad yesterday amid a huge security operation mounted by American and Iraqi forces.

Led by the relatives of two policemen killed in twin suicide bombings last Saturday and protected by two U.S. helicopters and scores of heavily armed Iraqi policemen, the marchers rallied in Firdus Square, where a large bronze statue of Saddam Hussein was toppled by Iraqis and U.S. Marines on April 9 after the fall of Baghdad in the U.S.-led invasion. The march came one day after the surprise visit by President Bush to U.S. forces.

A minibus carrying two symbolic coffins drove ahead of mourners and a three-member band played a funeral march as the demonstrators passed the Palestine Hotel, which was hit by an explosion last month.

Aziz al-Yasser, the coordinator of the demonstration organized by the Alliance of Iraqi Democratic Forces, said hundreds of people stayed away because of fears that the protest march could be attacked.

“We want democracy and reconstruction. Terror is delaying both,” he said.

Many of the demonstrators had lost relatives or had family members who had been injured in terrorist attacks in recent months.

Abdul Amir Kalandar, a prominent political leader from the northern city of Kirkuk, which was hit by a suicide bombing that killed five persons last week, said Saddam loyalists were not only attacking schools and hospitals but also destroying the region’s economic infrastructure with their sabotage of oil fields.

Also yesterday, Democrat Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Jack Reed of Rhode Island toured Baghdad, just hours after Mr. Bush’s surprise Thanksgiving Day visit.

The former first lady and Mr. Reed have been critical of the Bush administration’s handling of postwar operations in both countries.

Mrs. Clinton said it’s not too late to bring the United Nations back to Iraq and transfer some of the expense and pressure of administering Iraq to a wider group of nations.

“I’m a big believer that we ought to internationalize this, but it will take a big change in our administration’s thinking,” she said. “I don’t see that it’s forthcoming.”

In Baghdad, an explosion slightly damaged a highway overpass, and the military said that two U.S. soldiers died in separate incidents in central and northern Iraq.

One soldier died on Thanksgiving from a gunshot wound inside the heavily fortified base in Ramadi, 60 miles west of Baghdad. It was not immediately clear how the shooting occurred, a military statement said.

Another soldier died yesterday when four mortar shells slammed a 101st Airborne Division base in Mosul. Attacks by Iraqi insurgents on U.S. troops in Mosul have increased in recent weeks.

The military said a soldier was seriously wounded when a roadside bomb struck a convoy traveling near the town of Samarra, north of Baghdad.

The military said it had captured one of Saddam’s bodyguards, identified as Brig. Gen. Khalid Arak Hatimy. The statement said Hatimy had been inciting the uprising west of Baghdad and providing money and weapons to the guerrillas.

More than 60 U.S. troops have been killed in hostile action in November, more than any other month since the end of major combat in Iraq on May 1.

Since operations began, nearly 300 U.S. service members have died from hostile action, and another 136 from accidents and other causes. Several civilians working for the U.S. military and 75 soldiers from allied nations also have been killed, bringing total coalition deaths to more than 500.

Mr. Bush, who celebrated Thanksgiving with U.S. troops at Baghdad’s international airport, also met with four members of the 25-seat Governing Council.

Mouwafik al-Rubei’e, one of those attending, said they were simply invited to Thanksgiving dinner with Iraq’s American administrator, L. Paul Bremer, and had no warning that they would meet Mr. Bush.

“It was a fruitful meeting,” Mr. al-Rubei’e said yesterday. “The U.S. president reaffirmed his country’s commitment to build a new, democratic and prosperous Iraq.”

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