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Ben Wedeman: Shiites march in Baghdad

CNN's Ben Wedeman

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Shiite Muslims marched in Baghdad on Saturday, demanding a greater clerical role in running Iraq. Demonstrators gathered outside the compound of the U.S.-led civil administration.

CNN's Ben Wedeman in Baghdad spoke with CNN anchor Heidi Collins about the protest:

WEDEMAN: Coalition authorities got a vivid reminder today of the importance of one ethnic group that represents the majority of Iraqis, around 60 percent, and that is the Shiite Muslims.

The Shiites don't harbor any nostalgia for Saddam Hussein. In fact, they were some of his bitterest enemies. But they came out today to air their grievances with a coalition authority they feel has been unresponsive to their demands.

Today, they were ... demanding an immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces and the immediate formation of an Iraqi government. They also want a larger role for Shiite clerics, ... the religious leaders who were essentially the only institution in Iraq that was allowed to function [under the rule of ] Saddam, who ... crushed, essentially, all civil groups or political parties. Shiites used to make up a large percentage of the Communist Party of Iraq, which was the most effective political party before the rise of Saddam.

The Shiite clerics are the mainstay of the Shiite minority, and they want a much larger role than they are [being] given ... [by the] coalition authority.

COLLINS: Ben, something else has been happening in Iraq I'm curious about: these raids. U.S. forces breaking into a community hall as of late and finding a whole lot of what they're calling potentially significant documents. What can you tell us about that?

WEDEMAN: ... In the Tikrit area, they did find a large cache of documents and other paper that may help in pursuing the questions of weapons of mass destruction and the whereabouts of the remnants of the old regime.

Coalition forces are carrying out a fairly broad campaign across central Iraq, focused in the predominantly Sunni towns of Ramadi, Tikrit and Fallujah. Overnight we saw another series of raids in which individuals suspected of attacks on U.S. forces were brought in for questioning.

Of course, the focus of ... these raids, in addition to trying to find remnants of the old regime and documents, is to go after those who've been involved in attacks on U.S. forces.

But we've seen over the last week, that whereas the number of attacks in those areas have decreased, in Baghdad, they've increased. Within the last week, three American soldiers [were] killed in the capital.

COLLINS: Ben Wedeman, thanks so much for the update, live from Baghdad this morning.

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