Iraq: Sunnis join Moqtada’s march against occupation

We certianly hope that the expressions of Shi’ite-Sunni solidarity in this story are not exaggerated—or insincere. From AP, April 10 via Turkey’s Zaman:

Tens of thousands draped themselves in Iraqi flags and marched through the streets of two Shiite holy cities Monday to mark the fourth anniversary of Baghdad’s fall.

The rally was called for by powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who commands an enormous following among Iraq’s majority Shiites and has close allies in the Shiite-dominated government.

A day earlier, the renegade cleric issued a statement ordering his militiamen to redouble their battle to oust American forces and argued that Iraq’s army and police should join him in defeating “your archenemy.”

On Monday, thousands of demonstrators marched from Kufa to neighboring Najaf, 160 kilometers (100 miles) south of Baghdad, with two cordons of Iraqi police lining the route.

Some at the rally waved small Iraqi flags; others hoisted up a giant flag 10 meters (yards) long. Leaflets fluttered through the breeze reading, “Yes, Yes to Iraq” and “Yes, Yes to Muqtada. Occupiers should leave Iraq.”

One banner read, “Brothers Sunni and Shiite, this country would not be sold.” Another, “Death to America.”

“The enemy that is occupying our country is now targeting the dignity of the Iraqi people,” said lawmaker Nassar al-Rubaie, head of Sadr’s bloc in parliament, as he marched. “After four years of occupation, we have hundreds of thousands of people dead and wounded.”

A senior official in al-Sadr’s organization in Najaf, Salah al-Obaydi, called the rally a “call for liberation.”

“We’re hoping that by next year’s anniversary, we will be an independent and liberated Iraq with full sovereignty,” he said.

Iraqi soldiers in uniform joined the crowd, which was led by at least a dozen turbaned clerics — including one Sunni. Many marchers danced as they moved through the streets.

Thirty members of the Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni group, traveled several hundred kilometers northward from Basra to attend the rally alongside Sadrists from their hometown.

“We came to join our brothers from al-Sadr’s bloc, to reject the foreign occupation. We call on the Americans and other multinational forces to withdraw from Iraq,” said Sunni sheik Alla Nasir.

The demonstration was peaceful, but two ambulances could be seen moving slowly with the marching crowd, poised to help if violence or stampedes broke out.

“Cars were banned from Najaf for 24 hours starting from 8 p.m. Sunday,” said police spokesman Col. Ali Jiryo. Buses idled at all entrances of the city to transport arriving demonstrators or other visitors to the city center. “Najaf residents would be allowed to drive,” he said.

Security was tight across Iraq, with a 24-hour ban on all vehicles in Baghdad starting from 5 a.m. Monday. The government quickly reinstated Monday as a holiday, just a day after it had decreed that April 9 no longer would be a day off.

Monday’s demonstration marks four years since US Marines and the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division swept into the Iraqi capital 20 days into the American invasion.

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