They were responding to a call for an open-ended sit-in outside al-Hawza al-Natiqa buildings on al-Hurriyah square in southern Baghdad to protest against the action on the daily.

"No to occupation," shouted the crowd, as dozens of unarmed al-Sadr supporters, wearing black and deployed to maintain security, watched a group burn a US flag.

Al-Sadr's spokesman, Mahmud Sudani, said that dozens of US troops came to the premises and shut the doors with chains and locks before issuing a written order by occupation administrator Paul Bremer for the closure of the newspaper. 

The order accused the paper of having "published articles that prove an intention to disturb general security and incite violence against the coalition and its employees".

It ordered a 60-day shut down of al-Hawza from the day the letter was dated. However, the order gave no date.

Imprisonment and fine

The order to shut the paper came
from Paul Bremer himself

An occupation spokesman confirmed the 60-day closure.

The spokesman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said any violation of the closure could lead to the imprisonment of newspaper employees for up to one year and a fine of up to $1000.

On 26 February, an article in al-Hawza claimed that a bombing two weeks earlier that targeted the mostly Shia town of Iskandariyah, south of Baghdad, killing 53 people, was a rocket "fired by an (American) Apache helicopter and not a car bomb".

In the same edition, an article was titled "Bremer follows the steps of Saddam," and criticised the occupation forces' activities in Iraq.

Retrograde

"What is happening now is what used to happen during the days of Saddam. No freedom of opinion. It is like the days of the Baath" 


Husam Abd al-Kadir,
vendor

"What is happening now is what used to happen during the days of Saddam. No freedom of opinion. It is like the days of the Baath," said Husam Abd al-Kadir, 25, a vendor who took part in the demonstration, referring to the Baath Party that ruled Iraq for 35 years until Saddam Hussein was ousted a year ago.

Al-Sadr, who lives in the southern holy city of Najaf, is outspoken about the US-led occupation, but has not called for armed attacks.

A statement issued by his office on the newspaper's closure said: "We ask everybody to come to the newspaper and stay there until it is reopened."