Thousands of supporters of Shi’i leader Muqtada al-Sadr demonstrated in Baghdad to demand an end to the “US occupation,” on the sixth anniversary of the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime.
From early morning, a multitude of youths, waving Iraqi flags and upholding portraits of Muqtada al-Sadr, assembled, despite the relentless rain, in Firdos Square, where, six years ago, Iraqis, together with US soldiers, toppled the statue of the former dictator.
“All who oppose the occupation should participate in this demonstration,” Sheikh Hazem al Araraji, a leader of the Sadr movement, exhorted from the rostrum.
In a communiqué read by one of the movement’s spokesmen, Muqtada al-Sadr, who is said to be in exile in Iran, called on US President Barack Obama, who made a surprise visit to Baghdad on Tuesday, to “support the Iraqi people and work to withdraw” the US troops.
“I urge the demonstrators to shake the hands of the brothers in the security forces,” Muqtada al-Sadr said in his communiqué, nearly a year after the violent combats which pitted his militia, the Mahdi Army, against the regular Iraqi forces.
Muqtada al-Sadr, heir to a line of distinguished clerics, has always been opposed to the presence of foreign troops in his country. His supporters repeatedly clashed with US soldiers in the holy city of Najaf to the south of the capital, in Basra in the south, and in his stronghold of Sadr City, a slum in the northeast of Baghdad.
The demonstrators set fire to a more-than-2-meter-tall effigy with a double face — George W. Bush on one side and Saddam Hussein on the other — and trampled on a US flag.
“The ninth of April is a black-letter day: Saddam Hussein fell, but the occupation worse than his dictatorship began,” said Abu Ali, a 42-year-old civil servant from Nasiriya in the south.
The regime of Saddam Hussein, who had ruled Iraq since 1979, was overthrown on 9 April 2003, after the US troops’ invasion of Iraq began on 20 March.
The former dictator was hanged on 30 December 2006, after being condemned to death a month before for the murder of 148 Shi’is in a wave of repression following an attack against the presidential convoy in July 1982.
The text above is a translation of “Manifestación en Bagdad contra la ocupación estadounidense” (Página/12, 9 April 2009) by Yoshie Furuhashi.