CNN is reporting “thousands.”
Huge anti-US rally marks Iraq milestone
April 09, 2007
HUNDREDS of thousands of Shiites burned and trampled on US flags as
they gathered in the Iraqi holy city of Najaf for an anti-American
rally called by firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on the fourth
anniversary of the fall of Saddam Hussein.
Large crowds of men, women and children holding Iraqi flags and
anti-US banners massed in Najaf and the nearby twin city of Kufa to
protest against what they said was an American occupation of Iraq.
The rally is seen as a show of strength for the cleric who has not
been seen for more than two months, since the launch of a security
crackdown in Baghdad aimed largely at reining in his militiamen
accused of killing Sunni Arabs.
The US military has said he is in Iran but his aides deny the claims.
In the capital Baghdad, where four years ago on Monday a giant bronze
statue of Saddam was torn down, dramatically symbolising the fall of
his regime, security was tight.
A 24-hour vehicle curfew was in place and all Baghdad’s key roads and
bridges were deserted as people remained indoor for fear of attacks.
Jubilant Baghdadis who welcomed the invading US troops on April 9,
2003, now blame the rampant bloodshed and chaos on what even some of
the country’s most senior leaders brand an unwanted US-led
The Shiite demonstrators are marching from Kufa to Najaf’s central
Sadrain Square where top aides of Sadr – who is regarded by the
Americans as the most dangerous threat to stability in Iraq -are
expected to address the crowds.
Hundreds of banners saying “Down with Bush, Down with America” could
be seen in the crowd as Iraqi police and army soldiers guarded key
checkpoints in and around Najaf and Kufa.
Many in the crowds were seen burning US flags and some were trampling
on and striking US and Israeli flags painted on the ground with their
shoes, an act considered one of the worst insults in Arab culture.
Some Sunni religious groups were also seen participating in the rally.
It was not known whether Sadr himself would address the crowds.
The cleric, who launched two bloody rebellions against US forces in
2004, is known for his anti-US stance and has emerged as a powerful
force in the present Shiite-led Iraqi government.
His political bloc has 32 lawmakers in the 275-member parliament and
six cabinet ministers in Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s embattled
On Sunday, he reiterated his call to unite against the Americans and
end fighting between his militiamen and security forces in the
central city of Diwaniyah.
“He appeals to the Iraqi army and the Mahdi militia not to fall into
America’s trap by fighting in Diwaniyah,” said a statement stamped
and issued by the cleric’s Najaf office on his behalf.
US and Iraqi soldiers have been clashing with his militiamen in
Diwaniyah since Friday.
Calling for unity against US troops, Sadr urged local forces not to
support the “occupier because it is your enemy.”
“Iraq has had enough bloodshed. The occupation forces led by the
biggest evil, America, is working to sow dissent either directly or
through its agents.”
On April 9, 2003, US Marines pulled down the giant statue of Saddam
by a rope around the neck, in a premonition of his hanging in
December for crimes against humanity.
About 80,000 US and Iraqi troops are now patrolling the capital’s
streets where although the daily execution-style killings are
reported to be falling, high-profile car bombings remain a headache
for security forces.
Since the invasion of March 20, 2003, tens of thousands of Iraqis
have died in insurgent attacks and sectarian violence.
The four years have also been brutal for the US forces in Iraq.
On Monday, the military reported the deaths of six more soldiers in a
series of attacks, taking its toll for the month alone to 27 and 3275
since the invasion, according to an AFP count based on Pentagon