BAGHDAD, Iraq — At least 10,000 supporters of a radical Shiite cleric rallied Wednesday outside the headquarters of the U.S.-led coalition in a protest against the closure of their weekly newspaper, accused by the top American official in Iraq of inciting violence against coalition troops.
The chief U.S. administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, ordered Al-Hawza closed for two months on Sunday because its articles “form a serious threat of violence” against coalition forces and Iraqi citizens working with them. Al-Hawza’s managing editor dismissed the accusation and said political motives were behind Bremer’s decision.
“Free al-Hawza newspaper from its captivity,” declared one banner hoisted by protesters. Others carried portraits of their leader, Muqtada al-Sadr, or waved black and green flags.
Some protesters wore white shrouds, a symbol of martyrdom. Black-clad members of al-Mahdi Army, a militia set up by al-Sadr last year, marched in a military step.
“No, no to Bush. No, no to Bremer. Yes, yes to Muqtada,” chanted the protesters, mostly young men in their teens and early 20s and 30s.
The coalition has defended the decision to close down al-Hawza, one of at least 200 publications that have sprung up since Saddam Hussein’s ousting nearly a year ago. The coalition said that while it supported a free press, it would not tolerate material that foments violence against American or other coalition troops.