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Shiite Muslims protest U.S. presence

Captured presidential aide: Saddam's alive

Shiite Muslims demonstrate in front of coalition headquarters in Baghdad on Saturday.
Shiite Muslims demonstrate in front of coalition headquarters in Baghdad on Saturday.

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• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- About 2,000 Iraqi Shiites demonstrated against coalition forces Saturday in Baghdad, as U.S. troops continued to crack down on those responsible for recent deadly ambushes on their forces.

The protesters from the Baghdad suburb of Sadr City -- formerly known as Saddam City -- crowded the streets in front of the coalition's headquarters, holding posters of their Shiite leader and waving the Iraqi flag.

Coalition officials met with the demonstrators to hear their grievances before the rally. Shiites have traditionally supported the U.S. military presence in the country.

The protesters are displeased with the U.S. presence in Iraq and are demanding an Iraqi government to replace coalition rule.

U.S. civil administrator L. Paul Bremer told reporters Saturday that he hopes to have an interim Iraqi administration established within four to six weeks. Bremer was in Jordan for the World Economic Forum.

Meanwhile, U.S. military forces were carrying out raids in Operation Desert Scorpion.

The 1st Armored Division detained 22 people as part of six raids staged in Baghdad in recent days, according to a statement released Saturday by U.S. Central Command. The soldiers also seized several weapons and some ammunition.

The 4th Infantry Division -- operating from Kirkuk in the north to Taji in the south -- conducted three raids and detained three people, according to Central Command. The statement did not say exactly when the raids took place.

Bremer said that the armed resistance remaining in Iraq appears to be from small groups without a central command.

Mahmoud: Saddam survived

Saddam Hussein's former personal secretary has told interrogators he saw the deposed Iraqi president alive after two attempts to kill him with U.S. bombs, U.S. officials told CNN.

Those officials said Gen. Abid Hamid Mahmoud al-Tikriti, who was recently captured by U.S. forces, told interrogators that Saddam had been hiding separately from members of the former ruling family.

Mahmoud said the last time he saw Saddam was in early April, when Saddam and his two sons, Uday and Qusay, split up to avoid capture, government sources said.

The United States has no way of knowing whether Mahmoud's statements are true, officials said. Mahmoud also claims that he, Uday and Qusay traveled to Syria after the war began but returned to Iraq after being expelled by the Syrian government, officials said.

One knowledgeable official said, "That's what he is saying. Do I believe him? I'm not sure."

Although officials said they have believed for months that Saddam is likely alive, the interrogation of Mahmoud and other captured regime leaders, along with scraps of information from Iraqi citizens, have increased the confidence level among intelligence analysts that Saddam is alive and hiding in Iraq.

The White House said Friday that it remains unsure of the Iraqi leader's status and that his whereabouts are unknown.

"We don't know whether he's alive or dead," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters.

"Of course, there's going to be different views within the intelligence community. But again, one thing is for certain -- that is, he and his brutal regime are no longer a threat to the region or the world; no longer a threat to the Iraqi people," he said.

The hunt for Saddam inside Iraq continues to be led by a U.S. Special Operations team -- code-named Task Force 20 -- with support from the CIA. The task force, which also took part in the rescue of Pfc. Jessica Lynch, is made up of covert special forces from the various U.S. military services.

Other developments

An Iraqi boy walks past a broken burning oil pipeline near the oil refinery in Kirkuk, north of Baghdad.
An Iraqi boy walks past a broken burning oil pipeline near the oil refinery in Kirkuk, north of Baghdad.

• Meanwhile, crude oil -- stored since the start of the Iraq war -- will be loaded onto tankers beginning Sunday, clearing the way for an oil pipeline from northern Iraq to resume operations, according to Iraq's State Oil Marketing Organization. Eight million barrels of oil have been stored in tanks at the end of the pipeline at Ceyhan, Turkey. They will be loaded onto tankers for delivery to refineries that have bought the crude. Bremer said he wants to export $5.5 billion in oil over the next six months.

• In Fallujah, the scene of several attacks on U.S. forces, two soldiers were wounded in an attack late Thursday, coalition military sources said. Witnesses described attackers as Islamic fighters and said they used rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) in the assault, hitting a U.S. military vehicle and sparking a fire in a power station. "They shot at Americans; I saw it," a witness told CNN. "The mujahedeens shot toward the Americans. I saw one of the RPGs hit the American armored car." According to the military sources, one of the soldiers suffered a concussion. The other was bruised.

• One U.S. soldier was killed and two were wounded Thursday when a rocket-propelled grenade slammed into a U.S. military ambulance in the town of Iskandariyah, south of Baghdad. The soldiers were members of the 804th Medical Brigade and were taking a patient injured in another incident to the 28th Combat Army Support Hospital, Central Command said.

• Eighteen U.S. troops have been killed in attacks since May 1, when U.S. President George W. Bush declared an end to major combat in Iraq, according to the Pentagon. Another 37 have died in what are described as nonhostile incidents.

CNN Baghdad Bureau Chief Jane Arraf and Correspondent Ben Wedeman contributed to this report.

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