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20 Mar 2009 14:52
Several thousand followers of radical Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called for an end to United States occupation of Iraq after prayers in the capital on Friday, the sixth anniversary of the invasion.
“We reject occupation,” the faithful chanted, fists raised, in Sadr City, an impoverished district of northeast Baghdad named after Sadr’s father.
Slogans such as “Occupiers out ... non-believers out,” echoed over the crossroads where Friday prayers are held to accommodate the large turnout.
A US flag was set ablaze and stamped out as the prayers ended.
“We are expressing our rejection of injustice and shouting ‘occupier out,’” Sheikh Haidar al-Jaberi, a member of Sadr’s politburo, told the gathering.
He called for a major demonstration on April 9, the anniversary of the fall of the Sunni regime of president Saddam Hussein.
“March 20 should be a festival, but after what the Americans have done, it’s a sad day,” Jaberi said.
“They never kept their promises,” said Qassem Zamel, who came to pray.
“The Americans came to liberate us from a dictator but they have destroyed the country,” said Zamel, who is in his 60s.
He said his three sons were arrested in March 2003 and were still in jail, although he did not know why.
Shi’ites form the majority in Iraq and suffered repeated purges under Saddam’s brutal 35-year reign.
The community had at first welcomed the “Iraqi Freedom” invasion.
A maelstrom of violence swept Iraq in 2006 and 2007.
Sadr is said by US forces to be in neighbouring Iran.—AFP
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