Thousands protest on Baghdad anniversary
Chanting "No! No to terrorism!" and "No! No to America," thousands of supporters of a radical Shiite cleric who once led uprisings against U.S. troops called Saturday for American forces to withdraw from Iraq, staging a massive protest at the same square where — two years ago to the day — protesters pulled down a towering statue of ousted Saddam Hussein.
The protest reflected frustration with the U.S. government, which is slowly handing security responsibilities to Iraqi forces two years after taking control of Baghdad. U.S. officials have said they won't set a timetable for withdrawal, promising to stay until Iraqi forces are able to secure the country.
Protesters carried the coffin of a senior al-Sadr official who was gunned down late Friday in Baghdad. Two others were wounded in the ambush on their car.
U.S. and Iraqi security forces kept a close eye on the march, with U.S. soldiers standing behind blast walls and armed soldiers watching from rooftops.
But he has stepped up criticism of the United States in recent weeks, mainly by organizing Saturday's protest, which he hoped would draw a crowd of 1 million people.
Officials organized the demonstration with the Iraqi Interior Ministry's promise of protection. A group of protesters and police spent all night securing the square.
Sunni Muslim clerics also called on their followers to protest on the two year anniversary of the fall of Baghdad, but a senior official in the influential Association of Muslim Scholars, Jalil al-Shemari, said their followers would not be joining in the rally at Firdous Square. He would not say where or if his followers would protest.
Other marches were held across the country to demand that the United States set a timetable for its withdrawal.