[R-G] Iraqis Protest U.S. Occupation of Iraq

Yoshie Furuhashi critical.montages at gmail.com
Mon Apr 9 10:50:40 MDT 2007

The NYT has a good slide show of the Najaf demo:

April 9, 2007
Iraqis Protest U.S. Occupation of Iraq

BAGHDAD, April 9 — Large crowds marched in the city of Najaf today,
the fourth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad, to protest the American
occupation of Iraq.

The peaceful demonstration was being held at the urging of militant
Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr. He exhorted Iraqi security forces on
Sunday to unite with his militiamen against the American military in
Diwaniya, an embattled southern city in Iraq where fighting has raged
for four days.

Mr. Sadr's statement did not explicitly call for armed struggle
against the Americans, but it still represented his most forceful
condemnation of the American-led occupation since he went underground
after the start of an intensified Baghdad security crackdown nearly
two months ago.

The demonstrators, appearing to number in the tens of thousands,
marched to Najaf, 100 miles south of Baghdad, from neighboring Kufa,
with two cordons of Iraqi police lining the route. Some at the rally
waved small Iraqi flags; others hoisted a giant flag 10 yards long,
the Associated Press reported. Leaflets fluttered through the breeze
reading: "Yes, Yes to Iraq" and "Yes, Yes to Moktada. Occupiers should
leave Iraq."

"The enemy that is occupying our country is now targeting the dignity
of the Iraqi people," said lawmaker Nassar al-Rubaie, head of Mr.
Sadr's bloc in parliament, as he marched, according to the A.P. "After
four years of occupation, we have hundreds of thousands of people dead
and wounded."

A senior official in Mr. Sadr's organization in Najaf, Salah
al-Obaydi, called the rally a "call for liberation," the A.P.
reported. "We're hoping that by next year's anniversary, we will be an
independent and liberated Iraq with full sovereignty."

Iraqi soldiers in uniform joined the crowd, which was led by at least
a dozen turbaned clerics — including one Sunni, according to the A.P.
Many marchers danced as they moved through the streets.

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

Col. Steven Boylan, an American military spokesman and aide to the
commander of all American forces in Iraq, praised the peaceful nature
of the demonstration, saying Iraqis "could not have done this four
years ago," the A.P. reported.

"This is the right to assemble, the right to free speech — they didn't
have that under the former regime," Boylan said. "This is progress,
there's no two ways about it."

Mr. Sadr's call for resistance came as the American military announced
the deaths of 10 soldiers in five attacks over the weekend, the
highest two-day total for American fatalities since the new security
plan began Feb. 14. Five soldiers were wounded. Violence against
Iraqis continued unabated on Sunday, with at least 43 people killed or
found dead. Seventeen were killed and 26 wounded in a car bombing near
a hospital and mosque in the insurgent enclave of Mahmudiya, south of

Mr. Sadr's statement on Sunday indicated he might be ready to resume
steering his militia, the Mahdi Army, toward more open confrontation
with the American military.

The Mahdi Army has generally been lying low during the Baghdad
security plan, but intense fighting broke out in Diwaniya on Friday
between militiamen and American-led forces. The battles erupted when
American and Iraqi soldiers isolated neighborhoods in Diwaniya to
search for militiamen. Fighter jets hit militia positions on Saturday,
and one police official said at least seven Iraqis had been killed and
15 wounded in the fighting. Residents reported American soldiers
scampering across rooftops on Saturday evening.

The battles in Diwaniya have been the most violent in months between
the Mahdi Army and the Americans, and could portend violence in other
strongholds of the Sadr militia. Mahdi Army fighters began moving to
Diwaniya and other southern cities when the Baghdad crackdown began.

"The strife that is taking place in Diwaniya was planned by the
occupier to drag down the brothers and make them quarrel, fight and
even kill each other," Mr. Sadr said in a written statement. "Oh my
brothers in the Mahdi Army and my brothers in the security forces,
stop fighting and killing because that is what our enemy and your
enemy and even God's enemy hope for."

Mr. Sadr added: "God ordered you to be patient and to unite your
efforts against the enemy and not against the sons of Iraq. They want
to drag you into a war that ends Shiitism and Islam, but they cannot."

Mr. Sadr's influence over the security forces in Diwaniya is unclear.
Many Iraqi Army commanders and police officials there take orders from
the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a powerful
Shiite party that is the main rival to Mr. Sadr's organization.

The American military said Sunday that at least 39 people suspected of
being militiamen had been detained during the weekend fighting, and
soldiers had uncovered caches of particularly deadly explosives that
American officials contended came from Iran.

Mr. Sadr led two rebellions against the Americans in 2004 and emerged
more powerful from each, even though thousands of his fighters were
killed. He entered mainstream politics, and his followers now hold at
least 30 seats in Parliament and critical cabinet postings. He also
has a powerful protector in Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a
conservative Shiite who gained the top job because of Mr. Sadr's

Although Mr. Sadr has a home in Najaf, his current whereabouts are a
mystery. American military officials say he is in Iran, but supporters
insist he is still in Iraq. There have been explosions of violence
involving the Mahdi Army before the fighting at Diwaniya. On March 30,
a battle erupted in a Baghdad neighborhood between Mahdi Army fighters
and Kurdish soldiers brought in from the north as part of the security

An Iraqi employee of The New York Times contributed reporting from
Najaf. Jon Elsen contributed from New York.

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