Saturday, December 6, 2003

From combined dispatches

BAGHDAD — Up to 1,000 Iraqis, including children orphaned by the war that ousted Saddam Hussein, marched through Baghdad yesterday to denounce guerrilla attacks and show support for U.S.-led occupation forces.

The demonstration took place even as top U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer warned that attacks against coalition forces will likely escalate over the next few months as the occupation authority prepares for a transfer of sovereignty to a new Iraqi government.

Carrying banners blaming Saddam loyalists for terrorism, the demonstrators marched down one of Baghdad’s busiest streets before gathering in Firdos Square, where a statue of Saddam was famously pulled down as U.S. troops drove into the heart of the capital in April.

“We organized this demonstration because the terrorists now kill a lot of people,” said Abdul Aziz Al-Yassiri, coordinator of the Iraqi Democratic Trend, a recently formed social group.

“They kill the children, kill women, kill the people, kill the police. They want to stop our plan for a democratic system.”

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, without advance public notice, flew into northern Iraq early todaySat#, landing in the heart of the country’s northern oil fields.

Mr. Rumsfeld’s Air Force C-17 cargo plane flew to the city of Kirkuk from Tblisi, Georgia, where he told that country’s leaders that the United States supports Georgia’s independence.

It was the second time in four months that Mr. Rumsfeld has visited Iraq, but his first to Kirkuk, the center of Iraq’s northern oil industry.

The trip was kept under wraps to minimize the risk of attack by Iraqi insurgents. Officials said Mr. Rumsfeld wanted to gauge for himself the progress being made to stabilize the country.

The Baghdad march was the second time in two weeks that Iraqi demonstrators gathered in significant numbers to back U.S. attempts to rebuild the country and denounce guerrilla activities. Another march is planned for Friday, a Muslim holy day.

Most of those who marched were Shi’ite Muslims, who make up about 60 percent of Iraq’s population but were discriminated against under Saddam, a Sunni.

Several dozen youngsters holding flowers marched at the head of the demonstration while women accompanying them held up placards reading “Terrorism blocks the future for children” and “Children — innocent victims of terror.”

Mr. Bremer told the Associated Press that former members of Saddam’s intelligence agencies were now assuming an increasingly prominent role in the insurgency. He predicted an upsurge in attacks in coming months.

“In the immediate phase ahead of us between now and the end of June we will actually see an increase in attacks, because the people who are against us now realize that there’s huge momentum behind both the economic and political reconstruction of this country,” Mr. Bremer said.

At least four Iraqis and one American soldier were killed yesterday in a bomb blast on a busy street in eastern Baghdad. The explosion took place as a crowded public bus and a U.S. military convoy were passing each other.

The attack came ahead of the visit to Iraq by Mr. Rumsfeld, a key architect of the war to oust Saddam but now under fire over the chaos that has ensued.

Iraqi police Capt. Sami Hadi said the blast, near a busy marketplace and a few blocks away from a popular mosque, was caused by a mine.

“The mine was exploded by remote control,” Capt. Hadi said. “These are terrorists; they don’t care if there are Iraqis around.”

The attack left many Iraqis angry. At a hospital close to the scene of the blast, six elderly women dressed in black, all relatives of one of the victims, wailed and beat their chests.

Iraqi police and ordinary civilians have increasingly become victims of insurgents, who strike almost every day.

The Iraq Body Count, an Anglo-American nongovernmental group, estimates that as many as 9,800 Iraqi civilians have died since U.S. forces invaded to overthrow Saddam.

Over the same period, more than 500 U.S. and coalition soldiers have been killed either in direct military combat, in accidents or at the hands of anticoalition guerrilla fighters.

“No mercy to those who have no mercy toward people,” screamed one protester yesterday. “We will go ahead with our democratic process despite these acts.”

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