TENS of thousands of followers of anti-American Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr thronged Baghdad yesterday to mark the sixth anniversary of the city’s fall to US troops and to demand they leave immediately.
“Down, down USA,” the demonstrators chanted as Ali al-Marwani, a Sadrist official, denounced the US occupation of Iraq that began with the fall of Baghdad on April 9, 2003, and the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Firdos Square.
The crowds of Sadr supporters stretched from the giant Sadr City slum in northeast Baghdad to the square about 5km away. Protesters burned an effigy featuring the face of former US president George W Bush, who ordered the US-led invasion of Iraq and also the face of Saddam.
Shi’ites were brutally persecuted under Saddam, who was executed to chants of Sadr’s name in 2006.
“God, unite us, return our riches, free the prisoners from the prisons, return sovereignty to our country... make our country free from the occupier and prevent the occupier from stealing our oil,” Sadr said in a message read by a Sadr movement aide Asaad al-Nassiri.
“God, make us the liberators of our land,” the message said, drawing roars of approval from the crowd, many clutching or wearing Iraqi flags.
US President Barack Obama, who flew into Baghdad on an unannounced visit last Tuesday, has ordered US combat troops to leave Iraq by the end of August 2010, leaving a residual force of up to 50,000 trainers, advisers and logistics personnel.
Under a bilateral security agreement signed with Bush, all US troops must withdraw from Iraq by the end of 2011.
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