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BAGHDAD (AFP) – Anti-American protests intensified here and in southern Iraq (news – web sites) as US forces struggled with the complex task of rebuilding the country after toppling the regime of Saddam Hussein (news – web sites).

Exasperated US military officials tried to hamper the media from covering new demonstrations in Baghdad on Tuesday while some 20,000 people in the Shiite Muslim bastion of Nasiriyah railed against a US-staged meeting on Iraq’s future.

The protests came as the Americans delivered a first progress report in their effort to restore Iraq to normalcy and head off a chorus of criticism over continued lawlessness and a lack of basic services.

Some 200-300 Iraqis gathered Tuesday outside the Palestine Hotel, where the US marines have set up an operations base, for a third straight day of protests against the US occupation.

For the first time, visibly angered US military officials sought to distance the media from the protest, moving reporters and cameras about 30 meters (yards) from the barbed-wired entrance to the hotel.