Monday, April 09, 2007

Large Anti-US Rally Held In Iraq

Taken from The Telegraph, UK, 09/04/2007
By Anthony Pickles and agencies

Thousands of Shiites have converged on the holy city of Najaf for an anti-US rally called by radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr as the country marked the fourth anniversary of the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime. Some Sunni religious groups were also seen participating in the rally.

Large crowds of men, women and children, holding flags and anti-US banners, gathered in Najaf and the nearby twin city of Kufa for the protest which is also seen as a show of strength for the cleric who himself has been in self-exile for more than two months.

A day earlier, the fundamentalist cleric issued a statement ordering his militiamen to redouble their battle to oust American forces and argued that Iraq's army and police should join him in defeating "your archenemy." The rally will initially begin in Kufa and then head to Najaf's Sadrain Square.

Members of Sadr's movement were seen guiding the crowds, while Iraqi police and army soldiers guarded key checkpoints in and around Najaf and Kufa. At many places Iraqi and US flags were painted on the ground and being trampled by the Shiite crowd.

One banner read: "Brothers Sunni and Shiite, this country would not be sold." Another said: "Death to America."

Iraqi soldiers in uniform joined the crowd, which was led by at least a dozen clerics - including one Sunni. Thirty members of the Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni group, travelled several hundred miles from Basra to attend the rally.

It was not immediately known whether Sadr himself would address the rally later in Najaf. A senior official in his organisation in Najaf, Salah al-Obaydi, called the rally a "call for liberation."

He said: "We're hoping that by next year's anniversary, we will be an independent and liberated Iraq with full sovereignty."

The demonstration was peaceful, but two ambulances were seen moving slowly with the marching crowd, poised to help if violence or stampedes broke out.

In the statement distributed in Najaf on Sunday, Sadr called on Iraqi forces to stop co-operating with America. "You, the Iraqi army and police forces, don't walk alongside the occupiers, because they are your archenemy," the statement said.

He urged his followers not to attack fellow Iraqis but to turn all their efforts on American forces. "God has ordered you to be patient in front of your enemy, and unify your efforts against them - not against the sons of Iraq," it said.

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