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IRAQ - Mar. 29 - Sadr & Sistani Shiites Protest To Scupper Constitution, Oust US-Led Forces.

Protests erupt in many Shiite areas as their religious leader, the 31-year-old firebrand Muqtada Sadr, seeks to increase pressure on the US-led coalition and scupper the temporary constitution. Shiite stone-throwers clash with troops in the British-administered port city of Basra seeking to evict a Sadrist group, Tha'r Allah (God's Revenge), from a former government building. British troops in riot gear opened fire, with two soldiers and four Iraqis wounded. The Shiite unrest followed protests in central Baghdad. A thousand black-shirted of young Sadrists marched through central Baghdad burning US flags after US forces padlocked the door of their newspaper, Al Hawza Al Natiqa, saying it had been banned for two months for inciting violence. A statement from the Sadrist newspaper said: "If the coalition forces are going to keep on presenting us with such messages...they can just dream about any sort of end to terrorism". At the same time, Sadr's 3,000-strong Jaysh Al Mahdi (the Army of the Mahdi - the hidden Imam of the Jaafari Shhites) is being mobilised and heavily armed to spearhead a nationwide Islamic uprising against the US-led forces. Sadr's aides are warning that the Shiites would also rally the country's Sunnis on their side in a war to drive the US-led forces out of Iraq. The unrest followed a poster campaign and petition drive by supporters of the Shiite's reclusive but paramount religious authority, Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani, who is also seeking to overturn the temporary constitution, which was signed on Mar 8. The elderly theologian's face now adorns posters plastered across the country denouncing the document. (Signed by CPA chief Paul Bremer and his appointees in the IGC, the temporary constitution includes a bill of rights and was hailed as the most progressive in the region. But Sistani fears the IGC has enacted a permanent constitution by the back-door. In addition to the poster campaign, during Friday prayers on Mar 26. imams at thousands of Shiite mosques across central and southern Iraq began distributing a petition addressed to the UN and Bremer, demanding the law be revoked. "It is illegal because the administrators who have drafted the law lack legitimacy among ordinary Iraqis", says the petition. Shiite officials at Baghdad's Baratha mosque, who represents Sistani in Baghdad, said tens of thousands had signed the petition. Underlying the protest is Shiite trepidation that the occupying authorities may be seeking to dilute the majority rule that Shiites feel is their democratic birthright. Among Baghdad political classes, there is growing talk that Bremer could hand over power to a Shiite PM and a Sunni president. Sistani's representatives have said that if the law is not reversed their ayatollah will boycott talks with the UN team under, who arrived in Iraq this week to help oversee the handover from direct rule by the occupation authorities. Previous objections by Sistani have already twice scuppered Bremer's plans for political transition. The Shiite theologians have concentrated their vitriol on Article 61 of the temporary constitution which provides for 2/3rd of voters in any three of Iraq's 18 provinces to veto a future constitution. The clause was inserted by Iraq's Kurdish minority, fearful that the Arab majority would annul their current autonomy).
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Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Apr 12, 2004
Previous Article:IRAQ - Mar 28 - Foreign Civilians Killed.
Next Article:IRAQ - Mar 31 - Falluja Insurgents Kill & Mutilate 4 US Civilians.

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