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Thousands Of Shi'ites Stage Protest in Baghdad


Iraqis rally after Friday prayers in the Sadr City section of Baghdad

In Iraq, thousands of demonstrators have marched into central Baghdad Saturday to protest the presence of U.S.-led forces, two years after the fall of Saddam Hussein. The demonstrators also demanded a speedy trial for the former Iraqi dictator.

The demonstrators, waving anti-American banners, filled Fordos Square, where, two years ago, Iraqi civilians and U.S. forces toppled a massive statue of Saddam Hussein.

The protesters chanted, "yes to Islam and no to America or Saddam."

Many said they were heeding a call by radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose militia signed truces with U.S. forces after two bloody uprisings last year.

One of the organizers of the march, Rahim Sheikh al-Idrissi, said the demonstrators have two major demands. He said they demand the departure of the occupiers and a fair trial by an Iraqi court of Saddam Hussein. He added that the recently inaugurated national assembly should set a timetable for the withdrawal of the U.S.-led foreign troops.

Sunni clerics who are said to support the uprising, Friday called on their followers to support the march.

The leader of a group of Christians demonstrators, Samir Naim, said Muslim and Christian Iraqis want what he called the liberation of Iraq. He said Iraqis should be left alone to rebuild their country.

The U.S. government has refused to set a timetable for any troop withdrawal. Most of Iraq's newly elected leaders say a timetable should only be set when Iraqi security forces are able to fully protect the country.

Many Iraqis express frustration over the lack of security and basic services, two years after the fall of Saddam. Some observers say lack of progress is fueling the insurgency, which has killed thousands of Iraqis and 1,200 foreign soldiers.

Fifteen Iraqi soldiers were killed Saturday and several others wounded by a roadside bomb in Latifiyah, south of Baghdad. A separate attack killed four truck drivers in Kut, 170 kilometers south of the capital.

And an official of Moqtada al-Sadr was killed Friday night, as he drove to Baghdad to attend Saturday's protest.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari continued to work on his Cabinet, two days after being named to the post by President Jalal Talabani. Mr. Jaafari says he will announce his Cabinet appointments within two weeks, amid continuing discussion over the oil ministry and several other major portfolios.

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