BAGHDAD, Iraq - Shiite anger at the U.S. occupation of Iraq boiled over here yesterday as thousands marched through the streets accusing American troops of violating Muslim customs and unjustly arresting a Shiite cleric.
Adding to the fury, Shiite political leaders said, is a new U.S. plan to appoint an interim political council of Iraqis. Some Shiites see the plan as a thinly disguised move to limit the influence of their religious leaders in the postwar administration of Iraq.
Other political organizations, including the Iraqi National Congress, a former exile group, also are dismayed at the plan put forth Sunday by top U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer III.
The U.S. plan to name a council of 25 to 30 prominent Iraqis would scuttle an earlier proposal for a broad national conference to elect an interim government.
The U.S. Central Command reported yesterday that another U.S. soldier has been killed. The soldier, assigned to the Army's 4th Infantry Division, was killed Monday when a patrol came under fire from automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades near the northern town of Balad. The soldier was not identified pending notification of relatives.
In recent days, U.S. troops have come under more frequent attacks, which U.S. officials blame on remnants of Saddam Hussein's government.
Yesterday, U.S. troops were attacked at dusk on a street in the Mansour district of Baghdad. Witnesses said a young man threw a grenade into a U.S. Humvee. The soldiers inside fled before it exploded, slightly injuring one.
The troops fired at the attacker, who ran down a side street, apparently wounded, said Command Sgt. Maj. Dale Paff, who was standing guard at the scene. Paff said the attacker was the target of an intensive hunt.
Yesterday's noisy demonstration by about 3,000 people through the streets of western Baghdad began at the Rahman Mosque, a huge building begun by Hussein in his bid to model himself as a defender of Islam during the latter years of his rule. Although incomplete, it has been claimed by the Shiites that his Sunni-dominated government persecuted.
Led by white-turbaned sheiks from the Hawza Shiite seminary in Najaf, the demonstration's stated purpose was to demand the release of a Shiite cleric taken into custody Monday and to protest the intrusion of U.S. soldiers into Iraqi homes during weapons searches.
Many of the marchers were incensed by rumors - denied by the U.S. forces - that U.S. soldiers were touching Muslim women during the searches, which would be a violation of the customs of the Islamic world and a deep stain on their families' honor.
An underlying motive for the protest appeared to be to remind the U.S. occupation forces of the strength of Shiite leaders and their ability to bring large numbers of faithful into the streets on short notice if their concerns are not addressed.
"The Americans claim to be democratic, but what we have seen of them is not democracy," said Sheik Maalan Assari of Baghdad, one of the protest leaders, as his followers thronged into a square, blocking traffic.
"Their president claimed that he came to liberate Iraq, but now they have admitted that they are occupiers."
Many protesters didn't know that a sheik who was arrested by U.S. troops Monday had been released and sent back to his suburban Baghdad home early yesterday before the march demanding his freedom started.
The sheik, Jassem Dawood Said, told the Los Angeles Times that he had been held for about 24 hours and interrogated about whether he had been inciting anti-American hatred in his speeches at his mosque in the Doura suburb.
"Certainly, it is not true," he said as about 100 of his followers watched. He accused the U.S. troops of keeping him in a place "meant for cows," with no bed and no bathroom.
"The one thing that is true, if they don't do what they promised in favor of a democratic government, a really democratic government, then our attitude toward them will change," he said.
Elsewhere in Baghdad yesterday, the Leadership Council, composed of seven former opposition groups, said it still favors a national conference. Its members held a second emergency meeting in two days to formulate a unified response to Bremer's plan. Iraqi National Congress spokesmen threatened to convene the national conference even without U.S. backing.
John Daniszewski and Azadeh Moaveni are reporters for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.