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Shi'ite riot tells of frustration with occupation

KUT, Iraq -- Ukrainian soldiers fired into the air yesterday to disperse hundreds of Iraqis who rioted for jobs and food as a second southern Shi'ite Muslim city was rocked by unrest -- a sign of rising frustration with the US-led occupation in a region of Iraq considered friendly to the Americans.

Also yesterday a roadside bomb in the capital, Baghdad, killed an American soldier and wounded two, bringing the US death toll in the Iraqi conflict to 495. Large explosions rocked central Baghdad later in the day, but officials reported no casualties.

Trouble started in Kut, 95 miles southeast of Baghdad, when about 400 protesters marched for a third straight day on a government building to demand jobs. Someone in the crowd threw a grenade at police and Ukrainian troops guarding the building, injuring four Iraqi policemen and a Ukrainian soldier, Lieutenant Zafer Wedad said.

The Ukrainians then fired in the air to disperse the crowd, injuring a protester, Wedad said. He said the demonstrators hurled bricks at the building and vandalized a post office in the city.

In a similar protest in Amarah on Sunday, waves of protesters rushed British troops guarding the city hall before being pushed back. On Saturday, clashes in Amarah killed six protesters and wounded at least 11.

Unrest in the Shi'ite areas has spread as the country's leading Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, has spoken out against the US-backed formula for transferring power to the Iraqis.

In a full-page newspaper advertisement yesterday, Sistani repeated his demand that a proposed provisional legislature be elected rather than chosen by regional committees as called for under a plan endorsed by the US-led coalition and the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council.

Sistani is highly influential among Iraq's majority Shi'ites.

US officials, eager to overcome Sistani's objections, are revising the election process, The New York Times reported today. The Times cited Bush administration officials as saying that the United States is formulating a plan to make the regional committees more inclusive and their workings more transparent. No details were available about the death in Baghdad of the First Armored Division soldier. Most US deaths in Iraq have occurred since President Bush declared an end to major combat May 1.

Still, US officials said yesterday that insurgent attacks against coalition forces declined to an average of 17 a day in the past week, compared with 30 a day before Saddam Hussein was captured Dec. 13. Supporters of the ousted regime are thought be responsible for most of the attacks.

In the blasts late yesterday, Iraqi and US security officials said at least two mortars exploded near the Baghdad Hotel in the center of the capital. At least one round exploded in the Tigris River and the other exploded on the river bank, US troops said. There were no casualties, the Americans said.

Also yesterday, a roadside bomb exploded near an Army convoy in Ramadi, west of Baghdad, but the military said no US casualties were reported. Residents said two Iraqis were killed when troops opened fire after the attack.

On Friday, US soldiers found a "large weapons cache" with the help of an Iraqi in Ramadi, the US military said yesterday. It said the Iraqi led the troops to a house, where they found dozens of rocket-propelled grenades and several launchers, nearly 220 pounds of explosives, 16 homemade bombs, and two surface-to-air missiles.

Meanwhile, the Danish Army said yesterday that results of new tests to determine whether 36 shells buried in the southern Iraqi desert contain a liquid blister agent could be expected by the end of the week. The shells, thought to be left over from the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, were found last week.

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