Shi'as protest to demand direct elections

As many as 30,000 Shi'as marched through the streets of Basra to demand direct elections of the new Iraqi government in June rather than the caucus system favored by the US and most of the Iraqi Governing Council. This marks an increase in the tension between Shi'as, notably Ayatollah Ali Sistani, and the Coalition Provisional Authority. An aide to Sistani is even threatening a fatwa is things don't go his way:

"If Bremer rejects Ayatollah Sistani's opinion, he would issue a fatwa depriving the US-appointed council of its legitimacy," Ayatollah Mohammed Baqer al-Mohri told Abu Dhabi television. "After this, the Iraqi people will not obey this council. This US plan is not in line with Sistani's views."

In Basra, huge crowds walked through the streets, some arm in arm, chanting "No to America" and carrying portraits of Ayatollah Sistani. The protest will come as another uncomfortable warning to the US that, for the second time since the war, it may need to rework its political programme for Iraq. Mr Bremer is flying to Washington for urgent consultations.

As always, Juan Cole has a lot more.

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region,