REPORTER: MARK DAVIS: While massive religious gatherings like this one are being held peacefully, the major political protests against the Americans are coming out of the mosques.

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ABED MEHDI KARADALAI, IMAM OF HUSSEIN SHRINE (Translation): All these people today are loyal to Imam Hussein’s principles in refusing oppression and in challenging the American and the British colonialism.

The principle threat to American rule is not from Saddam loyalists, but from resurgent Islamic forces. Many of the mullahs are not pushing for democracy, but for the establishment of an Islamic state. In some areas, Shi’ite clerics have already seized control – sections of Baghdad are now run by armed Islamic militias. Virtual no-go areas for coalition forces. The recent killing of a pro-American cleric has fuelled concern about the intense jockeying of power under way between rival Shia factions. One of the most powerful faction leaders is Ayatollah Hakim, leader for the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, seen recently on Dateline, waiting in the wings in Iran.

AYATOLLAH HAKIM (March 26th) (Translation): We expect the Iraqi people as a whole to resist in this situation, or else it will be considered a religious war. Seen as such, it would have serious ramifications.

Backed by a 10,000-strong army, known as the Badr Brigade, he’s choosing his moment to return to Iraq and lead his reported millions of followers. Significantly, when the US recently called together key Iraqi powerbrokers to discuss the steps to democracy, Sheikh Hakim’s people refused to attend.

Iraq Backgrounder