Published on Friday, August 15, 2003 by Reuters
Iraq's Muslim Clerics Warn U.S. of Retaliation
by Nadim Ladki
BAGHDAD - Clerics from across the Muslim sectarian divide blasted the U.S. occupation of Iraq in Friday prayers as guerrilla hit-and-run attacks in the center of the country inflicted more American casualties.
"The Iraqis were treated at the scene and released while the soldiers were (evacuated) to a field hospital and are in stable condition," said Lieutenant-Colonel William MacDonald, spokesman for the 4th Infantry Division. "We have not yet captured the attackers."
The division is leading the hunt for ousted leader Saddam Hussein in the area around his hometown of Tikrit. U.S. troops have detained 14 Iraqis in the past 24 hours and seized surface-to-air missiles, rockets, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars, MacDonald said.
U.S. forces are facing a guerrilla campaign in Sunni areas where support for Saddam is strongest and 60 soldiers have been killed since May 1.
There are also signs of surging resentment among Iraq's Shi'ite Muslim majority, which generally welcomed Saddam's overthrow in the U.S.-led invasion that began in March.
A roadside bomb killed a British soldier and wounded two on Thursday in the southern city of Basra after a weekend of unrest by the city's Shi'ite population.
Chanting "Yes for Islam, No to America," more than 5,000 worshippers held prayers in open air at a street in northern Baghdad's Sadr City, where U.S. forces shot dead one Iraqi and wounded four during a protest earlier in the week.
"What happened (in Sadr City this week) clearly shows that America and international Zionism have declared war against Islam," Sheikh Abdul Hadi al-Daraji said.
"We tell you, the whole world and the United States of America that the sons of Iraq will retaliate twice as hard against anyone who attacks us or our sacred symbols."
Shi'ite residents of Sadr City have rejected a U.S. apology for provoking Wednesday's protest and vowed more violence unless U.S. troops withdraw from the district.
Thousands of Iraqis took to the streets of the impoverished district on Wednesday after a U.S. helicopter flew near the banner of a religious school, hanging from a communications tower.
Locals said the helicopter tore down the banner, while the U.S. Army said it might have been blown off accidentally.
Daraji said U.S. troops must leave Sadr City and apologize more profusely for the incident, as well as pay compensation to the victims of the ensuing violence and their families.
Most Shi'ites in Iraq say they were oppressed by Saddam, a Sunni. But some powerful Shi'ite clerics have spoken out against the occupation and anger is also brewing in mainly Shi'ite southern Iraq over chronic fuel and electricity shortages.
Riots erupted in Basra on Saturday and Sunday in protest at the shortages. A Nepalese Gurkha private security guard and two Iraqis were killed.
In the Sunni town of Falluja, Sheikh Abdullah al-Janabi said U.S. troops faced more attacks if they remained in Iraq.
"The future will witness more killing and resistance operations against the United States in Iraq," he told hundreds of worshippers in a mosque in the town, 50 km (32 miles) west of Baghdad.
Janabi also took a swipe at Saddam and his "cronies," saying they had fled in the face of the U.S.-led invasion.
Copyright 2003 Reuters Ltd