- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2004

BAGHDAD — Shi’ite Muslims marched through Baghdad for a second day yesterday, this time demanding the execution of Saddam Hussein — whose Sunni-dominated regime repressed the Shi’ite majority for decades.

An estimated 5,000 people joined the march that wound its way from Sadr City, a poor Shi’ite neighborhood in northeastern Baghdad, to Firdous Square, the plaza in the center of the capital where Saddam’s statue was pulled down April 9, marking the ouster of the Ba’athist regime.

Saddam was captured Dec. 13 and the Pentagon has designated him a prisoner of war.

“The butcher of Iraq is not a POW. He must be punished,” read a banner waved by some demonstrators.

“Saddam is a war criminal, not a POW. Execute Saddam,” the crowd chanted, waving huge green flags, the color of Islam.

The march, which coincided with smaller protests in two other cities, came a day after a much larger demonstration of 100,000 Shi’ites in Baghdad to demand direct elections to replace the U.S.-led interim administration.

Shi’ites, who are believed to make up about 60 percent of Iraq’s 25 million people, were kept out of power during Saddam’s 35-year rule by the minority Sunni Muslims. Thousands of Shi’ites, including clerics, were slain by the regime.

Since the fall of Saddam, the Shi’ites have begun asserting their numerical superiority. Generally supportive of the U.S. invasion last year, Shi’ite leaders now pose the biggest political challenge to the U.S.-led coalition and its plans for a power transfer this summer.

Leading Shi’ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani opposes the U.S. plan that envisages holding 18 regional caucuses in May to choose a transitional legislature. The assembly would then appoint a provisional government to take power on July 1.

Ayatollah al-Sistani wants early, direct elections for the new government. But Washington says it is impossible to hold elections before June 30.

The precarious security condition makes elections even less feasible, U.S. officials say. The security fears were reinforced by a suicide bombing on the edge of the U.S. compound in Baghdad on Sunday that killed 31 persons. A missile believed to be a rocket landed in the compound yesterday but caused no “significant damage,” a U.S. spokesman said.

Saddam loyalists and members of his former Ba’ath Party continue to launch attacks on American troops, although the frequency has dropped since Saddam’s capture. A total of 501 U.S. soldiers have died in the conflict.

“We call for the execution of Saddam the infidel, who killed our sons and kept them in mass graves,” Karima Hanoun, 40, said at yesterday’s demonstration. She said 11 relatives were executed by Saddam.

POW status under the Geneva Conventions grants Saddam certain rights, and many Iraqis fear such status will shield him from a trial in Iraq.

International Red Cross officials have said the conventions would not prevent the United States from handing Saddam over to an Iraqi tribunal, as long as a fair trial is guaranteed.

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