Thousands of Shiite Muslims rallied yesterday in the southern city of Basra in a show of support for Iraq's new constitution and the Shiite-dominated government. The US military said three US soldiers were killed in action in Baghdad and south of the capital.
Also yesterday, five Iraqi soldiers were killed and nine injured in a bombing against their convoy near Beiji, 250km north of Baghdad, the Iraqi military said.
The demonstration by at least 5,000 people in Basra was organized by the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the Shiite Dawa Party and was larger than rallies against the constitution staged by Sunni Arabs elsewhere in the country in recent weeks.
The two parties are the largest party Shiite political groupings in Iraq, and their representatives have played a key role in drafting the new charter which will be presented to voters in a referendum on Oct. 15.
Demonstrators chanted "Yes to the constitution," and carried banners reading: "The constitution is a guarantee for better future," and "Freedom and justice will be achieved by this constitution."
In Ramadi, a Sunni city west of Baghdad, several hundred people demonstrated against the constitution, chanting "We are brothers, Sunnis and Shiites, we will never sell this country."
Numerous demonstrations for and against the proposed charter have highlighted the deepening rift between the Shiite and Kurdish politicians who pushed the draft through parliament last weekend and the Sunni Arabs who oppose it. Sunni leaders have urged their community to vote against the constitution because its provision for a decentralized Iraq comprised of federal states would divide the country.
In continuing sectarian violence, unidentified gunmen opened fire on Sunni Muslim worshippers at Friday prayers in two mosques south of Baghdad, killing two people and injuring four, police said.
In Baghdad, two bombs rocked the central part of the city early yesterday. Police said one person was injured in a blast at the Sadeer Hotel, which is used mainly by foreign contractors.
Another bomb was reported to have targeted a US military convoy, witnesses said. There were no reports of casualties in that incident.
The US military said three American soldiers had been killed in action in clashes in Baghdad and the town of Iskandariyah 50km south of the capital in incidents on Wednesday and Thursday.
In the aftermath of Wednesday's mass loss of life during a Shiite pilgrimage in Baghdad, politicians from Sunni and opposition Shiite groups have denounced the government's failure to organize the processions and to quickly react following the stampede in which nearly 1,000 people died.
"This is a result of the inadequate performance of the interior and defense ministers, which has caused such a loss of life," said Baha al-Aaraji, a Shiite lawmaker allied with radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
Al-Aaraji said the ministers should "stand in front of" parliament and if the legislators believe they failed in their responsibility to protect marchers, "they should be dismissed and stand trial."
Meanwhile, Shiites continued to bury the victims of the stampede and search for the missing ones. Prayers for the dead were to be said in mosques as worshippers gathered for regular Friday worship.
In other developments, the US military confirmed on Thursday that its soldiers killed a Reuters journalist in Iraq but said their action was "appropriate."