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At least 2,000 Shiites protest cleric's arrest

Rumsfeld calls new Iraq Stabilization group 'a one-pager'

Shiite Muslims protest in Baghdad on Wednesday, demanding the release of a cleric who was arrested for allegedly storing weapons.
Shiite Muslims protest in Baghdad on Wednesday, demanding the release of a cleric who was arrested for allegedly storing weapons.

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- More than 2,000 Shiite Muslims continued their protest, marching to the U.S.-led administration headquarters Wednesday where they demanded the release of a Shiite cleric who was arrested the day before for storing weapons.

Imam Mu'ayyad Al Khazraji and his assistant, Abdel Jalil Wakiya, also known as Dr. Jalil, were arrested Monday for having assault rifles, grenades and ammunition at a holy site, said a spokesman with the Army's 82nd Airborne Division.

Iraqi police found four AK-47s, four grenades, ammunition and gas masks, according to coalition authorities. The clerics also were arrested for calling on Iraqis to oppose the U.S.-led occupation, Reuters reported.

Coalition officials invited protesters into its complex for talks aimed at easing the tension. The Shiite protesters lay in the road, shouted slogans and refused to move.

Al Khazraji is being held on charges of possible murder, conspiracy to commit murder, kidnapping, false imprisonment, harboring terrorists, soliciting weapons for delivery to terrorists and organizing illegal demonstrations, authorities said. An investigation is pending.

An attorney for the 82nd told CNN that witnesses support the counts.

Worshippers at the mosque told CNN that after the imam was arrested Monday night, they saw U.S. soldiers enter the mosque to "plant" bombs, grenades and pistols. They then photographed the cache, the witnesses said.

There was no immediate response from the Army or Iraqi police on the allegations, but the U.S. military said all the arrests were made outside the mosque, and that no U.S. soldiers went inside.

Rumsfeld dismisses oversight significance

In Colorado Springs, Colorado, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said a decision to transfer the day-to-day oversight of Iraq's reconstruction to the White House from the Pentagon is no reflection on his leadership or the progress made in rebuilding and pacifying Iraq.

The White House said Monday it is creating an Iraq Stabilization Group to be headed by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. The group would be responsible for handling the day-to-day administration of Iraq, a task previously handled by the Pentagon.

The overhaul is the outcome of numerous discussions among Rice, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Rumsfeld and President Bush on the reorganization efforts inside Iraq, a White House official said.

Rumsfeld appeared to admit he was out of the loop about the creation of the oversight group, saying he was told that the Pentagon received a memo about it from the National Security Council (NSC) on Friday, but that he did not read it until Tuesday.

"I don't remember it being discussed," Rumsfeld said Tuesday. He was in Colorado Springs for an informal meeting of NATO defense ministers Wednesday.

Rumsfeld listens Tuesday to the national anthem prior to a town hall meeting with troops at Fort Carson east of Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Rumsfeld listens Tuesday to the national anthem prior to a town hall meeting with troops at Fort Carson east of Colorado Springs, Colorado.

But the defense secretary said he was not blindsided by the change, and downplayed the significance of the initiative, dismissing the memo outlining the responsibilities of the Iraq Stabilization Group as "plain vanilla."

"It's a one-pager," Rumsfeld said. "It is basically a memorandum that says the NSC is going to do that which it is chartered to do. It is chartered to do interagency coordination, and that's what the memo says."

Rumsfeld insisted that over the last five months, the U.S. military and the Coalition Provision Authority have made tremendous progress despite a situation he described as "probably unmatched in history."

Blast rocks Baghdad

Meanwhile in Baghdad, an explosive device detonated early Wednesday about 1,312 feet (400 meters) from a U.S. observation post, U.S. military officials said.

No one was in the area when the homemade bomb detonated about 2 a.m. in the southeastern part of the city near the "green zone," where U.S. administrators are based.

There were no casualties or damage.

The bombing comes two days after three U.S. soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter were killed in two separate explosions near Baghdad.

In one incident, a soldier with the Army's 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment was killed west of Baghdad. Another soldier from the unit was wounded.

Other developments

U.S. soldiers ride on Humvees on Wednesday through the grounds of Saddam Hussein's former Republican Palace in Baghdad, a facility now used as headquarters for the Coalition Provisional Authority.
U.S. soldiers ride on Humvees on Wednesday through the grounds of Saddam Hussein's former Republican Palace in Baghdad, a facility now used as headquarters for the Coalition Provisional Authority.

• Former high-ranking Iraqi air defense commander Abed Hamed Mowhoush Al Mahalowi, who has links to Saddam Hussein, has been arrested by U.S. troops, the Coalition Press Information Center said Wednesday. In addition, 112 people were arrested. Al Mahalowi was a major general in the former Iraqi Army's Air Defense branch. .

• In an effort to limit potential tensions between Iraq and Turkey, the United States will try to negotiate a deal for the potential deployment of Turkish peacekeeping troops to Iraq that would put those troops in western Iraq, far from any Iraqi Kurds in the north, a senior U.S. military official told CNN Wednesday. The official cautioned that it is not clear Turkey will ever send the troops, which were approved by the Turkish parliament Tuesday.

CNN Senior Pentagon Correspondent Jamie McIntyre contributed to this report.


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