Shiites Demonstrate Against
US As Iraq Anarchy Grows


(AFP) -- Shiite Muslims in Iraq celebrated openly for the first time in decades Prophet Mohammed's birthday, as continuing anarchy and chaos threatened to undermine US efforts to rebuild the war-ravaged country.
Meanwhile coalition officials in Iraq insisted Monday that plans for an Iraqi government were still on track and Russia hinted that a compromise could be imminent on a UN draft resolution to lift economic sanctions on Iraq.
Thousands of Iraq's majority Shiite Muslims marched to their main mosque in Baghdad to mark the birthday of Islam's founder Prophet Mohammed.
Shiites, who celebrate the birthday a week later than Sunni Muslims, were forbidden to publicly mark the date under the regime of Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated regime.
The crowd filled the street leading to the Kazimiya mosque in the northeast of Baghdad and carried banners in the green color of Islam, calling for good government.
"No to injustice," "No to occupation," "No to Israel," "Yes to Islam," chanted the demonstrators as speeches began from a platform.
Imam Mohammad al-Fartussi, who last week threatened violence against "sinful" women, alcohol vendors and cinemas showing "indecent" films, offered praise for the fall of Saddam and called Iraq "the land of imams... land of Islam."
The demonstration came as Iraq's top US overseer Paul Bremer began his second week on the job amid continuing lawlessness in the country.
In his frenzied first seven days, the telegenic Bremer repeatedly promised to restore the law and order that crumbled along with Saddam Hussein's regime nearly six weeks ago.
But despite issuing a host of tough decrees, Bremer has failed to stem the rampant crime and street violence plaguing the country.
Despite a security crackdown over the weekend in Baghdad and an announcement that some 7,000 policemen had returned to their jobs since the end of the war, ordinary Iraqis still felt unsafe on the street with gunfire rife and police a near invisible presence.
In Baghdad, almost all the police stations have been destroyed or looted since US troops took control of the capital on April 9. Only two have so far reopened, and they have no equipment whatsoever. Baghdad's top police job remains vacant.
And a trip to Baghdad's looter market only bears witness to the fact that criminals are ruling the roost in the post-Saddam era.
Packed with the piles of stolen goods picked up during the frenzy of theft that followed the collapse of Saddam's regime, the traders deal in everything from computers and stereos to furniture and weapons.
Jalal Jamil, a 45-year-old jewellery store owner, said the situation just keeps getting worse. "The Americans encourage people to steal because when looting happens right under their noses they do nothing," he said.
Bremer has also been criticized for backing away from an earlier US timeline on forming a government in Iraq, but US-led coalition officials Monday insisted government plans were still on track.
"We want to have an Iraqi voice in everything we do here but it would be wrong to do that precipitously," said a source at the Organisation of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA), which is administering post-war Iraq.
Officials from Iraqi groups that met with Bremer last week have said that he back peddled on what they said were earlier pledges to give them a lead role in forming a new interim government in the next few weeks.
"We understand that they want to have as much power as possible but we told them: 'You won't be directly elected, you won't have any direct experience of government," the source said.
"'Of course you will have input into the government but, since you are not directly elected, it would be a nonsense for you to have direct executive power,' the source said.
"The last thing we want is to leave a bunch of self-appointed oligarchs in power," the source said.
The comments came on the same day that a prominent Iraqi called for internationally-supervised elections in Iraq.
Adnan Pachachi, a onetime foreign minister who returned to Iraq on May 6 after 33 years in exile, told the independent Az-Zaman daily that elections should be held under international supervision.
An interim government should create an election code and laws to clear the way for direct elections to a constituent assembly, that would draw up a constitution, Pachachi said.
A referendum on the constitution would lead to elections for a new government, the 80-year-old Pachachi told the daily.
On the diplomatic front, a top Russian official said Monday that the UN Security Council would likely vote this week on a US-British draft resolution to lift economic sanctions placed on Iraq in 1990 after its invasion of Kuwait and to place its oil riches under coalition control for at least a year.
"An updated text of the document may already be published today and may be put to a vote this week," Deputy Foreign Minister Yury Fedotov told ITAR-TASS news agency.
Yet Fedotov did not say whether Russia would back the resolution, which diplomats have been revising since the United States, Britain and Spain first submitted it more than a week ago.
Russia "will vote depending on what the resolution text turns out to be," he said.
With billions of dollars in oil and debt interests in Iraq, Russia has been anxious to secure UN involvement before supporting the resolution.
Australia announced the creation Monday of an expert panel to help Iraq protect its rich cultural heritage and assist Interpol in recovering looted ancient artefacts.
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