BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq's U.S.-led authorities have reignited radical Shi'ite Muslim fury in Iraq with the closure of a firebrand cleric's newspaper, at a time when the administration is struggling to win over moderates.
Thousands of supporters of Moqtada al-Sadr, a prominent anti-American cleric who had gone relatively quiet for months, took to the streets near Najaf on Sunday, drawing fire from coalition troops when they tried to enter a base.
At least 19 people were killed and more than 100 wounded in the clashes. In Baghdad too, thousands of protesters marched through the streets, and the rattle of gunfire was heard.
"Sheikh Moqtada Sadr is our leader. He's going to lead Iraq. Today we fought the occupation troops and we will keep fighting them until we take over," said 23-year-old Mohammad Hanoun, a protester wielding a chain.
Sadr's supporters have staged several marches in the past week to protest against the closure a week ago of al-Hawza newspaper, a mouthpiece for Sadr that U.S.-led authorities accused of inciting anti-American violence.
The closing of Sadr's newspaper has galvanised his supporters.
The clashes may embolden Sadr's fighters in an occupied country where militia groups have often flexed their muscles against coalition troops but rarely engaged them.
As shots rang out, a young supporter of Sadr held up a poster of the young firebrand and his father, a deceased Shi'ite cleric who is still popular.
In recent days, Sadr's followers have also angrily protested against the arrest of Mustapha Yacoubi, an aide to Sadr, who they say was seized by coalition forces in Najaf on Friday.
I knew this day will come... It is like what happened in Afghanistan - when Afghanis were fighting the Russians, the US supported the Mujahadin (Al-Qaeda's father) and the Talibans. After the Communist threat was gone from Afghanistan, they turned back against the US and the West. You can never trust radicals. They will sale their own mather if it'll help them accomplish their radical ideologies.
Edited by Erikl, 04 April 2004 - 05:12 PM.
"We live in a world where when Christians kill Muslims, it's a crusade; When Jews kill Muslims, it's a massacre; When Muslims kill Muslims, it's the weather channel. Nobody cares"