Tens of Thousands in Najaf Demand US Departure from Iraq
Tens of thousands of followers of young Shiite nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr rallied in the Shiite holy city of Najaf south of Baghdad on Monday, protesting the continued presence of US troops in Iraq. They burned US flags and held up posters saying, “America will fall, will fall.” Chillingly, some of the demonstrators appeared to be soldiers in the Iraqi army. Although the Iraqi government tried to spin the demonstration as a celebration of the fall of Saddam, it was in fact an ironic denunciation of the US for not withdrawing from Iraq after the demise of the Baath. Sadr City residents in Baghdad also supported the demonstration by flying Iraqi flags. Iraqi authorities appear to have been terrified of Muqtada’s street power, and they imposed a curfew on the capital.
A statement by Muqtada was distributed to demonstrators at Najaf and the LAT gives some of it: “We live at this moment and so far 48 months of anxiety, oppression and occupational tyranny have passed, four years which have only brought us more death, destruction and humiliation. Every day tens are martyred, tens are crippled and every day we see and hear U.S. interference in every aspect of our lives, which means that we are not sovereign, not independent and therefore not free. This is what Iraq has harvested from the U.S. invasion.”
Al-Ra’y quotes the statement as saying, in addition, America has striven to ignite sectarian turmmoil among the sons of the people. We say to the American people and to that of Europe, we want peace and liberty and independence.” He addressed American and European publics, saying, “We urge you, on the basis of simple humanity, to put pressure on your governments to end our torture and the shedding of Iraqi blood.” He also pledged to the Arab world his solidarity with its causes.
Sadr MP Nassar al-Rubaie said, “Today is a call for resistance, for liberty and honor after four years of Occupation from which Iraq has gained nothing but killings without any services, even electricity and water. There is no sovereignty for the people or the government. We are not saying that sovereignty is limited. We are saying that it is absent.”
Sunni clerics and members of the Iraqi Islamic Party, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, were bussed up from the southern city of Basra. Abdul Qadir Abdul Da’im of the IIP said, “The demonstration is a love letter that gathers together Iraqis and unifies them with regard to demanding the departure of the Occupation from this country. We must close ranks so that we can liberate our land from the north to the south.”
Fred Kaplan at Slate discusses the proposals for a US withdrawal from Iraq put forward by Steven Simon and myself. Simon’s thoughtful paper is in pdf format at this Council on Foreign Relations site.