Iraqis rail against U.S.

Rally marks fall of Baghdad

April 10, 2009|By McClatchy-Tribune

BAGHDAD -Six years after the U.S. overthrew Saddam Hussein's government, tens of thousands of Iraqis gathered in the rain in Iraq's capital Thursday to mark the anniversary and renew calls for a U.S. withdrawal.

The demonstrators came in response to calls by Muqtada al-Sadr, the influential Shiite cleric who has long decried the U.S. military's occupation, but there were also Sunni Muslims in the crowd.

Draped in Iraqi flags and chanting, protesters packed Baghdad's Firdous Square, where six years ago a crowd cheered the destruction of a statue of Hussein.

"No, no to America," demonstrators repeated Thursday. "No, no to arrogance."

Speakers at the rally called on President Barack Obama to "keep his promise to the world" and withdraw U.S. troops quickly.

"I hope that all the sons of the fervent Iraqi people in all their shades - Sunni and Shiite, Arab and Kurd, Christian, Sabian and Muslim - will participate in this demonstration to reject the despicable occupation," al-Sadr said in a statement announcing the event two weeks ago.

Obama, who this week made his first visit to Iraq since he became president, has pledged to pull most U.S. troops from Iraq by the summer of 2010.

In Baghdad on Tuesday, he said a recent uptick in violence in Iraq hadn't changed those plans.

Besides an end to the occupation, rally speakers called for "Iraqi unity."

Police said many Sunnis, including prominent leaders, took part.

Among the Sunni leaders was Hameed al-Hayis, who helped launch the Sons of Iraq, groups of Sunni militiamen whom the U.S. began paying in 2007 to ally with Americans and help root out al-Qaida in Iraq. Many Sons of Iraq members are former insurgents.

More recently, al-Hayis formed a majority-Sunni political party that is openly critical of Iraq's Shiite-led government and won two seats on Anbar's provincial council in January.

In a speech Thursday, al-Hayis demanded that the government release Shiite Sadrist prisoners and that high-ranking government security officials resign. The recent spike in violence proves that they're unqualified, he said.

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