Thousands of people loyal to an Iraqi Shia leader have gathered in Baghdad to protest against the US' continued presence in the country, six years to the day after the capital fell to American troops.
Supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr rallied on Thursday in Firdous Square, where the statue of then-Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was pulled down on April 9, 2003.
The demonstrators waved banners and carried pictures of al-Sadr, calling for an end to the US occupation of Iraq.
The rally, which went ahead despite heavy rain, comes amid US preparations to pull its combat troops out of Iraq by the end of June.
Iraqi police kept watch over the protest but did not enter the main square. Iraqi and American armoured cars were on standby a short distance away.
Abdel Wahab Al-Qassab from the Strategic Studies Centre in Doha, Qatar, which researches political and military strategies, said that Iraqi public opinion is overwhelmingly in favour of US forces leaving the country.
"The US has said verbally that it will end the occupation but we do not know what the real ambition of the invaders is. They could yet say there is no stability in the country and extend their presence there.
"The US has already said that 50,000 troops will remain in Iraq for what they say is training Iraqi troops. But I think that every Iraqi wants US troops out of the country because what has occurred is the shattering of the Iraqi society." . . .
If you haven't read about the famous statue-toppling, six years ago today, you might find this piece from Source Watch interesting.
Toppling the statue of Saddam Hussein was a staged event, by U.S. soldiers, for the media. A Reuters long-shot of Firdos Square where the statue was located (see below) shows that the Square was nearly empty when Saddam was torn down. The Square was sealed off by the U.S. military. The 200 people milling about were U.S. Marines, international press and Iraqis. However, the media portrayed it as an event of the Iraqi people.
An American military vehicle actually pulled down the statue. Marine Corporal Ed Chin, who temporarily placed a U.S. flag over Saddam's face, became an instant media celebrity. His sister, Connie, appeared on the "Today" show and spoke with her brother via a video hook-up.
. . .
On Point, a US army report on lessons learned from the war, notes that it was a Marine colonel, not Iraqi civilians, who decided to topple the statue. "We moved our [tactical PSYOP team] TPT vehicle forward and started to run around seeing what they needed us to do to facilitate their mission," states a U.S. military officer involved in the operation. "There was a large media circus at this location (I guess the Palestine Hotel was a media center at the time), almost as many reporters as there were Iraqis, as the hotel was right adjacent to the Al-Firdos Square. The Marine Corps colonel in the area saw the Saddam statue as a target of opportunity and decided that the statue must come down." The psychological team used loudspeakers to encourage Iraqi civilians to assist, packed the scene with Iraqi children, and stepped in to readjust the props when one of the soldiers draped an American flag over the statue. "God bless them, but we were thinking from PSYOP school that this was just bad news," the officer reported. "We didn't want to look like an occupation force, and some of the Iraqis were saying, 'No, we want an Iraqi flag!' So I said 'No problem, somebody get me an Iraqi flag.' "
There are also these photos, and "Is this media manipulation on a grand scale?", both from Information Clearinghouse.
Update. As a joke, I said to the Campaign friend who sent me the Al-Jazeera story, "Does 'thousands' mean 'tens of thousands'? Does Al Jazeera do that, too?" I assume you all know what I'm referring to!
My friend pointed out that Reuters did say "tens of thousands". Tens of thousands of people coming out to protest in the rain, in an occupied country, where protest could bring great risk to themselves, is a testament to human strength and spirit.
Tens of thousands of followers of anti-American Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr thronged Baghdad on Thursday to mark the sixth anniversary of the city's fall to U.S. troops, and to demand they leave immediately.
"Down, down USA," the demonstrators chanted as a Ali al-Marwani, a Sadrist official, denounced the U.S. occupation of Iraq that began with the fall of Baghdad on April 9, 2003, and the toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue in Firdos Square.
The crowds of Sadr supporters stretched from the giant Sadr City slum in northeast Baghdad to the square around 5 km (3 miles) away.
Protesters burned an effigy featuring the face of former U.S. President George W. Bush, who ordered the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, and also the face of Saddam. . . .