In the biggest anti-U.S. demonstration since the end of the war, thousands of Shiite Muslims marched peacefully through Baghdad on Monday to protest the U.S. occupation and reject what they feared would be a U.S.-installed puppet government.
Small groups of U.S. infantrymen, including snipers on nearby rooftops, watched the rally but did not intervene. Several dozen Shiite organizers armed with AK-47 assault rifles patrolled the area. They, too, were left alone by the Americans.
Up to 10,000 people gathered in front of a Sunni Muslim mosque in Baghdad's northern district of Azimiyah, then marched across a bridge on the Tigris River to the nearby Kadhamiya quarter, home to one of the holiest Shiite shrines in Iraq.
"What we are calling for is an interim government that represents all segments of Iraqi society," said Ali Salman, an activist.
Some carried portraits of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran, senior Iraqi Shiite clerics and of Imam Hussein, one of the most revered Shiite saints.
In other developments:
The sponsors probably have enough votes to get it passed, but after the bruising battles that preceded the war in Iraq, U.S. officials say they'd like to get unanimous approval.
Germany's Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer wants the United Nations to have the final say in declaring Iraq free of weapons of mass destruction. But he stopped short of linking German approval for lifting sanctions to the return of U.N. weapons inspectors who
Washington says are not needed.
The U.S.-backed resolution would end sanctions and give the U.S. and its war allies control of Iraq for at least one year, with the right to sell the county's oil to pay for reconstruction.
The U.S.-led administration says an interim government is necessary to restore law and order and basic public services in many cities and towns across the country of 24 million.
The top U.S. commander in northern Iraq says that's when citizens in Kirkuk will soon select a city council. Under the plan, the U.S. Army will choose 300 city leaders who will elect 24 delegates to the council.
However, The New York Times reports that the White House is now learning from people on the ground in Iraq that launching a democratic government now, with security still in doubt, could be risky.
Bremer's predecessor, retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, was severely criticized for not doing enough to stop rampant looting, re-establish an effective police force and restore basic utilities.
In an example of the continuing potential for unrest, when the Iraqi agency responsible for paying pensioners handed out emergency cash for the first time this weekend, it triggered hours of chaos as retirees and their families struggled to force their way into the Baghdad office building while U.S. troops tried to maintain order.
Defense experts and administration officials tell The Washington Post that the Bush administration appears to have miscalculated the degree of chaos that would erupt after the fall of Saddam's regime, and the number of troops needed to contain it.
"This was a war plan. It was not a law enforcement plan," a senior official on the postwar reconstruction team told The Post.
Sunday's trip to northern Iraq was Bremer's first official visit outside Baghdad since arriving in the country a week ago to lead the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, which is entrusted with reconstructing the country.
He said his administration's top priorities were to improve security and to restore basic services like gasoline and electricity, acknowledging it was a difficult task.
"But we will succeed," he said.
The U.N. children's fund warned Sunday that Iraq could slip into a "major crisis" without quick action to meet its urgent humanitarian needs, including getting children back to school and removing potentially lethal ordnance left over from the war.
Shiites make up the majority of Iraq's 24 million people but were long excluded from political power by Saddam's Sunni Muslim regime.
For decades, Shiites were banned from publicly practicing some of their rituals, and many of their top clerics and activists were murdered, jailed or pushed into exile under Saddam's 23-year rule.
Since Saddam's ouster by coalition troops last month, there has been a spate of smaller gatherings, some of them hundreds strong, demanding that occupying forces withdraw. Monday's march was the biggest in terms of numbers and had a distinctly political message.
The crowd chanted "No Shiites and no Sunnis, just Islamic unity," sang religious songs, and carried banners reading "No to the foreign administration," and "We want honest Iraqis, not their thieves."