Iraqis call for U.S. forces to leave

Tens of thousands of people waving Iraqi flags staged a peaceful rally in the southern city of Najaf on Monday to demand the withdrawal of U.S. forces, four years to the day since Baghdad fell to invading American troops.

Iraqis call for U.S. forces to leave

Tens of thousands of people waving Iraqi flags staged a peaceful rally in the southern city of Najaf on Monday to demand the withdrawal of U.S. forces, four years to the day since Baghdad fell to invading American troops.

The anniversary comes as Iraq's Shi'ite-led government is trying to avert full-scale civil war between majority Shi'ites and minority Sunnis.

The protesters in Najaf were responding to a call by powerfulanti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who blames the U.S.-led invasionof Iraq in March 2003 for the country's woes and wants a timetable setfor a U.S. troop withdrawal.

U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad Rear Admiral Mark Fox claimed that four years ago U.S.-led forces had "liberated
Iraq from Saddam's republic of fear."

"While there have been substantial accomplishments, the first four years have also been disappointing, frustrating and increasingly dangerous in many parts of Iraq," he told a news briefing.

Waving dozens of red, white and back Iraqi flags, marchers choked the seven km-long road between Najaf and neighboring Kufa and clogged the streets leading to Sadrayn Square, the main rallying point in Najaf.

Many had come by bus and car from Baghdad and Shi'ite towns and cities in the south.

Sadr was not at the rally. He has been keeping a low profile since the Baghdad crackdown. The U.S. military says he is in neighboring Iran, but his aides insist he is still in Iraq.

SADDAM STATUE

Speaking against the backdrop of an Iraqi flag, a leading member of Sadr's movement, Abdelhadi al-Mohammadawi, called on U.S. forces to leave. His speech was interrupted by the periodic chorus of "Leave, leave occupier!" and "No, no, to the occupation."

"We demand the exit of the occupier and withdrawal of the last American soldier and we also reject the existence of any kind of military bases," he said.

U.S. President George W. Bush has insisted U.S. troops will not leave until Iraqis can take over security and has repeatedly rejected setting a timetable for withdrawal.

"This protest is our demand for sovereignty because we will not stay quiet on the issue. The Iraqi government can handle everything and there is no need for the occupiers to remain and continue killing innocents," said Mohammed Hamza from Baghdad.

Saddam had vowed to defeat the U.S.-led invasion launched on March 20, 2003, but his forces offered little resistance as U.S. forces thrust deep into the heart of the Iraqi capital.

By then the war had cost 96 American dead, 30 British dead and unknown thousands of Iraqi military and civilian casualties.

Four years on, those tolls have soared to more than 3,270 U.S. soldiers killed, 140 British soldiers, 124 from other nations, and tens of thousands of Iraqis. Ten U.S. soldiers were killed at the weekend. 

Güncelleme Tarihi: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16
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