- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 23, 2003

BAGHDAD Angry Shi'ite demonstrators shook their fists at American soldiers protecting the Palestine Hotel for a second day yesterday, criticizing U.S. forces for arresting a senior cleric.
News that the cleric had been released filtered down to the crowd after the protest was interrupted for midday prayers, and the anger turned to shouts of "God is great."
"Yes, yes to Islam. Down, down, down Saddam," they chanted, adding, "Iraqi people must run Iraq, not Americans."
As the crowd reassembled for an impromptu rally under the remaining boot of Saddam Hussein's statue in Baghdad's central square, some of the demonstrators issued a "last chance" warning to American forces not to impose restrictions on any Shi'ite leader.
Sheik Mohammed al-Fartusi had been intercepted by American forces on his way to Baghdad from the holy city of Najaf with six armed bodyguards, said Mohammed Mohsen al-Zubaidi, the self-proclaimed mayor of Baghdad.
Mr. al-Zubaidi said before meeting with local dignitaries in the Nebuchadnezzar Room of the Sheraton Hotel that no one had been injured during the U.S. forces' confrontation with the sheik's entourage.
However, the demonstrators called the arrest a serious provocation.
"Our men were not threats to the U.S. They were guarding our leader, and I think the U.S. was trying to show us how powerful it is," said Fares Aziz Mehdi, a former schoolteacher. "But their move has backfired. We are warning the U.S. We are cooperating with you now, but do not provoke us further, or you will be burned. You will not leave Iraq alive."
Others pointed out that more than 60 percent of Iraqis adhered to the Shi'ite branch of Islam and that this long-deprived group needed a share in government "like in Lebanon," one said.
However, Mr. Mehdi's main complaint was personal. He said he had been fired by Saddam's regime from his teaching job and, like many Shi'ites, could not afford a decent house or clothes for his family.
"If the Americans bring us water, electricity and jobs, then I personally don't mind who's ruling us, Americans or Iraqis," he said.
"I suspect America is here for the oil, but if they show that is not the case, I will be prepared to see them stay on for four years."
He said the crowd, when shouting for Americans "to leave now," were displaying frustration at the poor conditions and what looked to them like American inaction.
Aides to the released sheik said last night that he had been taken by his own security personnel "to a secret place for his own protection."

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