BAGHDAD, Iraq - Large portions of Baghdad were in turmoil Tuesday after attackers fired an explosive into the Foreign Ministry compound, former intelligence officers demanding back pay or jobs hurled paving stones at American forces and U.S. soldiers confronted a big demonstration of Shiite Muslims.
There were no known injuries in any of the incidents, but traffic in the center of the capital was at a near standstill. Streets around the Foreign Ministry and Saddam Hussein's former Republican Palace headquarters of the U.S.-lead Coalition Provisional Authority were blocked by U.S. soldiers in armored vehicles and Iraqi police. The compounds are about a half-mile apart.
AMERICA = SADDAM
Hundreds of Iraqis, held back by police, demonstrate in Baghdad October 7, 2003, saying that U.S. soldiers had arrested a local cleric and another man. There was no immediate comment from the U.S. military. About 400 people gathered outside the Ali al-Bayaa mosque in Baghdad's southwestern Bayaa district, waving banners saying 'America = Saddam' and 'What is this freedom?' REUTERS/Akram Saleh
Witness Hussein Amin said the mortar shell or rocket-propelled grenade fired at the ministry compound landed near the office of Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and broke windows. Zebari was not there. Workers in the compound came streaming out and Iraqi guards fired rifles in the air.
The U.S. military press office said it was aware of "a situation" at the Foreign Ministry but had no details. Two U.S. armored personnel carriers and five Humvees had sped to the scene.
The ministry is also about a half mile from the Al-Rasheed Hotel, where many U.S. officials live. The hotel was attacked by small rockets or rocket-propelled grenades on Sept. 27, causing no casualties and minimal damage.
Security was already tight in the palace area because of demonstration Tuesday by about 2,000 former employees of the Iraqi intelligence service who are demanding they get their old jobs back.
The intelligence officers have been protesting weekly to demand pay or jobs. After the protest, paving stones littered the street near the palace and the strands of concertina wire which provide security in the area had been flattened by the protesters.
In southwest Baghdad, U.S. soldiers in about 20 Humvees with two helicopters overhead confronted some 600 demonstrators at a Shiite Muslim mosque, with protesters claiming the Americans had illegally detained their imam.
Sheikh Mohammed al-Sudani said mosque preacher Moayed al-Khazraji was arrested Monday as he lead a 12-man delegation to negotiate with the Americans in the municipal council building.
The group was briefing detained and handcuffed by soldiers, al-Sudani said. Everyone in the group was released, he said, but the imam who was taken to an unknown location.
It was not immediately clear what negotiations were planned.
The military said it was checking on the arrest allegations.
Al-Sudani accused the Americans of putting hand grenades in the mosque on Monday as a pretext for arresting the imam and sealing the building.
Protesters shouted "America equals Saddam" and "Today we are raising banners tomorrow we will raise weapons."
According to one of the organizers, the protesters plan a sit-in until al-Khazraji is released.
Last week, U.S. soldiers fired warning shots over the heads of stone-throwing Shiites outside al-Karzraji's mosque after the cleric was questioned by U.S. and Iraqi authorities for allegedly inflammatory sermons.
Shiites, the majority of Iraq's 25 million people, have been generally more accepting of the U.S. occupation than Sunnis, the foundation of the former regime. Many Shiites opposed Saddam because of his bloody crackdown on a Shiite uprising after Iraq's defeat in the 1991 Gulf War .
Over the weekend ex-soldiers rioted repeatedly outside a U.S. Army base in central Baghdad, demanding promised one-time payments of $40. Two protesters were killed in a Saturday incident when they were fired on by soldiers and Iraqi police. U.S. officials said Saturday was the last day of the payment program, and all eligible former soldiers had been paid.
Similar disturbances were reported between ex-soldiers and British forces in Basra in the far south of the country over the weekend.
North of Baghdad, in the important oil refining town of Baiji, remnants of the Fedayeen Saddam militia attack U.S. soldiers and Iraqi police for two days. One resident reportedly died after being shot in the crossfire. Two Turkish fuel tankers were hit with explosives and burned.
EDITORS NOTE: AP reporter Sameer N. Yacoub contributed to this report.
Copyright 2003 The Associated Press