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Iraqis Hold Anti-American Demonstrations

U.S. officials have brought together former Iraqi opposition and resistance groups to discuss plans for the country's future. While the meeting was under way, anti-American demonstrations were held in a number of cities in Iraq.

The United States says the talks in Nasiriyah are just a first step in a much longer process aimed at creating an interim government in Iraq. But demonstrators took to the streets of the city in protest at what some see as an attempt at an American-imposed government.

"We certainly would want there to be no civil unrest, any violence, but the right for them to express their opinion is something we see as a good news story and a trend, perhaps, for the future," said U.S. Central Command spokesman Brigadier General Vincent Brooks, who see the protests as a good sign.

The meeting in the town of southern Iraqi town of Nasiriyah brought together anti-Saddam Hussein groups both from inside and outside Iraq. It was arranged by the U.S. Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, the U.S. military authority that is to rule post-war Iraq until an interim civilian authority is ready to take power.

General Brooks also said major efforts are under way to hunt for weapons of mass destruction, one of the key objectives of the military campaign.

"We remain convinced there are weapons of mass destruction inside Iraq, and we remain unwavering in our view of that," he said.

The general said the coalition is committing significant resources to the search for those weapons. He said an entire artillery brigade, several thousand men who have been given special training for the task, has been assigned to the search.

General Brooks also said coalition forces continue to work to prevent any wanted members of the former regime of Saddam Hussein from fleeing across the border to Syria.

U.S. officials have charged that Syria has provided refuge for some of those individuals, a charge Syria denies.