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Iraqis rally against U.S. security deal

Muqtada Sadr tells lawmakers they must reject the pact as his supporters hold a protest in Baghdad.

October 19, 2008|Ned Parker and Usama Redha | Times Staff Writers
  • Protesters shout slogans during a demonstration in Baghdad today.
Protesters shout slogans during a demonstration in Baghdad today. (Ali Abbas / EPA )

BAGHDAD — Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr warned Iraqi lawmakers that approving a U.S. troop agreement would be tantamount to a betrayal of the Iraqi people, as his supporters rallied Saturday against the deal.

As many as 20,000 protesters shouted, "No, no, America!" in a visceral display of the deep apprehension among Iraqis over the security pact that would extend the U.S. military presence in Iraq after a United Nations mandate expires in December.

Iraqi officials, even those close to the Americans, have been reluctant to back a deal that could effectively label them a puppet of foreign powers. The government's close relationship with the Americans has enhanced the stature of Sadr, who has refused to cooperate with U.S. officials.

"They have portrayed this agreement in a manner as if it would end the presence of the occupation on our land, but the occupiers will remain with their bases, and anyone who tells you that this agreement will make us sovereign is a liar," Sadr said in a statement that was read by Sheik Abdul Hadi Mohamedawi to a sea of people waving red, white and black Iraqi flags.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, October 22, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 41 words Type of Material: Correction
Iraq photo: A photo caption accompanying an article in Sunday's Section A, about a rally against a U.S. security deal in Iraq, described a boy as waving to a tank in a British convoy. The vehicle pictured was a Land Rover.

"I know for a fact, my brothers in parliament, that you will favor the opinion of your people over the opinion of the occupier. Do not betray your people."

Sunnis, Shiites and ethnic Kurds spoke at the rally in a square near Mustansiriya University in east Baghdad, denouncing the U.S.-Iraqi security pact.

Iraqi army checkpoints sealed off the square and nearby roads. The demonstrators had marched almost a mile from Sadr City, the poor district that is home to more than 2.5 million people and the nexus of support for Sadr. One poster showed a U.S. soldier arresting an Iraqi, with the caption "Death to America."

Protesters said they wanted the Iraqi government to hear their voices.

"This agreement gives the Americans the right to do whatever they want. They will impose their terms on Iraq," said Mohammed Qasem, a teacher in Sadr City. "If the occupier leaves, Iraq will be just and at peace."

Speakers tapped into Sadr's image as a populist who waged two uprisings against the U.S. military in 2004. And they highlighted his distance from Iraq's ruling clique in the fortress-like Green Zone, home to both the Iraqi government and U.S. officials.

"Repeat after me loudly, because we want the people in the Green Zone to hear it: Baghdad is free, free, free. America out, out, out," one supporter urged the crowd.

But the failure to attract a larger crowd was testament to the pressure on the movement since Sadr declared a freeze on his Mahdi Army militia last year. Since then, Sadr City has been surrounded by concrete walls and his supporters complain that they have been targeted by Iraqi and U.S. forces.

Nonetheless, leaders told the crowd that more than 4 million people were protesting around the country Saturday -- a claim that elicited cheers from the crowd.

Progress on the security agreement, which the U.S. had hoped to complete by the end of July, has stalled. A meeting Friday of Iraq's political blocs to review the latest draft, which calls for U.S. forces to leave Iraq at the end of 2011 unless Iraq chooses otherwise, failed to push the agreement forward.

Haidar Abadi, a Shiite lawmaker with Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's Islamic Dawa Party, described an atmosphere in which Iraqi officials are afraid that a pro-agreement stance might be used against them by their enemies. He said some lawmakers see no need to put the pact to a vote in parliament before December.

Even some Iraqi soldiers shared Sadr's sentiment that an agreement was bad for the Iraqis.

"They should abandon the agreement because it will oppress the Iraqi people," said a non-commissioned officer named Abu Karar who sat in the shade of a tree as marchers walked by.


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