About 200 Shia Muslims staged a demonstration in Multan, central Pakistan, against US attacks near the Imam Ali shrine in the Iraqi city of Najaf.

Protesters marched and condemned what they called the desecration of the shrine.

"The United States wants to occupy the oil resources of Muslim states on the pretext of terrorism and the hunt for al-Qaida," Shia leader Sayyid Anis Haidar Naqvi told the rally.

The protesters carried placards reading: "Stop US barbaric operation in Iraq, Najaf", "Stop bombing holy places", "Down with America and Britain", "Bush and allied forces are terrorists" and "Desecration of sacred places will not be tolerated".

"The people of Iraq deserve to have peace and not more suffering"

Abdullah Badawi,
Malaysia prime minister 

The complex, one of the holiest sites in Shia Islam, has been in the hands of the al-Mahdi Army since an April uprising against the US-backed interim Iraqi government.

US warplanes pounded the area near the shrine overnight as continued fighting dimmed hopes of an end to the two-week-old standoff.

Call to UN
 
Malaysia, which currently heads the world's biggest grouping of Islamic countries, called for an end to violence in Najaf on Monday.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, chairman of the 57-member Organisation of the Islamic Conference, urged the United Nations to act to end the fighting.

Current head of the OIC, Malaysia, 
has called for Najaf attacks to end

"If the confrontation in Najaf is not defused, it will inflame emotions and may create unpredictable conditions," he said in a statement to the official Bernama news agency.

"It will also erode the fragile stability in the country and affect the preparations for the holding of the national elections in Iraq scheduled in January 2005," said Abdullah, who is in South Korea for a three-day visit.

"The people of Iraq deserve to have peace and not more suffering," he added.

US forces around the site in Najaf have been pounding the area sporadically over the past few days with heavy fire.