Baghdad, 18 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Several thousand Iraqis marched today through Baghdad, chanting anti-American and anti-Saddam Hussein slogans. A leading cleric, Ahmad al-Kubeisy, today criticized what he called "the American occupation" of Iraq during the Friday prayer at the Abu Hanifa mosque in Baghdad, and called on U.S. forces to leave soon. After the sermon, thousands of people demonstrated against both the U.S. presence in Iraq and against Hussein.
Ahmad Chalabi, the leading figure of the Iraqi National Congress, an emigre opposition organization, said today in his first public appearance in Baghdad, that he expects an Iraqi interim authority to be up and running within weeks, and general elections be held within two years.
"If the [draft] constitution is passed and accepted by this public referendum, then we will have a permanent constitution and, on the basis of this constitution, there will be democratic elections in Iraq, after which a government of Iraq will take over all the functions of state in Iraq. I expect this process to take not more than two years." Chalabi said he will not run for any position in the interim government.
The U.S. military today said Iraqi Kurds handed over Samir Abd al-Aziz al-Najim, a senior Ba'ath Party official, to U.S. troops near the northern city of Mosul overnight. Al-Najim is the fourth of the 55 most wanted Iraqi officials captured by coalition forces.
Also today, a U.S. Army armored unit attacked what the military said were pro-Saddam Hussein paramilitary forces near Samarra, 120 kilometers north of Baghdad, taking 30 prisoners and destroying eight vehicles.