SF Bay Area Indymedia indymedia
About Contact Subscribe Calendar Publish Print Donate

Iraq | Palestine | International

Iraq's Shias march for Hezbollah
by ALJ
Friday Aug 4th, 2006 6:19 AM
Tens of thousands of Iraqi Shias - draped in white shrouds to symbolise their willingness to die - have rallied in Iraq's capital to show their support for Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shia group that is fighting Israel.
Organisers said about 250,000 people had gathered from all over Iraq for the rally in Sadr City, a mainly Shia slum, on Friday.

The rally was called by Muqtada Al-Sadr, a Shia leader critical of the US occupation of Iraq.

Dressed in white shrouds - a symbol of their willingness to die - Sadr's supporters, mainly young men, waved Hezbollah's yellow flags and chanted "Death to Israel!" and "Death to America!"

"I am wearing the shroud and I am ready to meet martyrdom," said Mohammed Khalaf, 35, owner of a clothes shop in the southern Amarah city.

"I consider my participation in this rally a religious duty. I am proud to join this crowd and I am ready to die for the sake of Lebanon," said Khazim al-Ibadi, 40, a government employee from Hillah.

Al-Sadr's followers painted US and Israeli flags on the main road leading to the rally site, and stepped on them with relish.

Alongside the painted flags was written: 'These are the terrorists."

Tensions were raised before the rally by claims from al-Sadr's movement that US soldiers had fired on a convoy of protesters as it travelled north to Baghdad through the town of Mahmudiyah on Thursday, wounding 16 of them.

But the US military said the soldiers had only responded after one of their watchtowers had come under fire from a passing van and that they had killed "two terrorists" in the subsequent exchange.

Although the rally was about Hezbollah, it is also a show of strength by al-Sadr, who commands a powerful militia, the Mahdi Army that US officials have blamed for much of Iraq's sectarian violence.

It is not clear if al-Sadr, who lives in the southern holy city of Najaf, will attend the demonstration.

Iraq's national television said the defense ministry had approved the demonstration, a sign of the public anger over Israel's offensive in Lebanon and of al-Sadr's stature as a major player in Iraqi politics.

The presence in Baghdad of so many young Shias - most of them from the Mahdi Army - also risks fuelling sectarian tensions amid almost daily clashes between Shiite and Sunni gunmen in the capital.

More
http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/0FBCE7C3-F42A-46A4-9AAF-7316280AC03F.htm
by reposted
Friday Aug 4th, 2006 6:37 AM
BAGHDAD, Iraq — Hundreds of thousands of Shiites chanting "Death to Israel" and "Death to America" marched through the streets of Baghdad's biggest Shiite district Friday in a massive show of support for Hezbollah in its battle against Israel.

No violence was reported during the rally in Sadr City. But at least 26 people were killed elsewhere in the country, most of them in a car bombing and gunbattle in Mosul in the north.

The demonstration was the biggest in the Middle East in support of Hezbollah since Israel launched its attacks against the guerrillas in Lebanon on July 12. The protest was organized by radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose political movement built around the Mahdi Army militia has been modeled after Hezbollah.

Al-Sadr summoned followers from throughout the Shiite heartland of southern Iraq to converge on Baghdad for the rally but he himself did not attend.

Demonstrators, wearing white shrouds symbolizing willingness to die for Hezbollah, waved the guerrillas' yellow banner and chanted slogans in support of their leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, which has attained a cult status in the Arab world for its defiance of Israeli military power.

"Allah, Allah, give victory to Hassan Nasrallah," the crowd chanted.

"Mahdi Army and Hezbollah are one, let them confront us if they dare," the predominantly male crowd shouted, waving the flags of Hezbollah, Lebanon and Iraq. Many walked with umbrellas in the searing afternoon sun. Volunteers sprayed them with water.

"I am wearing the shroud and I am ready to meet martyrdom," said Mohammed Khalaf, 35, owner of a clothes shop in the southern city of Amarah.

Al-Sadr followers painted U.S. and Israeli flags on the main road leading to the rally site, and demonstrators stepped on them _ a gesture of contempt in Iraq. Alongside the painted flags was written: "These are the terrorists."

Protesters set fire to American and Israeli flags, as well as effigies of President George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, showing the men with Dracula teeth. "Saddam and Bush, Two Faces of One Coin" was scrawled on Bush's effigy.

Iraqi government television said the Defense Ministry had approved the demonstration, a sign of the public anger over Israel's offensive in Lebanon and of al-Sadr's stature as a major player in Iraqi politics.

"I consider my participation in this rally a religious duty. I am proud to join this crowd and I am ready to die for the sake of Lebanon," said Khazim al-Ibadi, 40, a government employee from Hillah.

More
http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ap/world/4094289.html
by reposted
Friday Aug 4th, 2006 6:38 AM
BAGHDAD - Thousands of Iraqi Shia gathered in Baghdad Friday for a politically charged rally in support of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, as US commanders warned of a slide towards civil war.

Bearing Iraqi flags and chanting “Death to America! Death to Israel!”, they converged on the capital from the south and centre of the country in response to a call for a show of strength from radical cleric Moqtada Al Sadr.

Tensions were raised before the rally by claims from Sadr’s movement that US soldiers had fired on a convoy of protesters as it travelled north to Baghdad through the town of Mahmudiyah on Thursday, wounding 16 of them.

But the US military said the soldiers had only responded after one of their watchtowers had come under fire from a passing van and that they had killed “two terrorists” in the subsequent exchange.

“Contrary to reports otherwise, these individuals were armed,” said Major Steve Stover, a spokesman for Multi-National Division Baghdad. “They fired upon our soldiers, who have every right to defend themselves.”

Injured activists who arrived at Baghdad hospitals after the shootings could give no coherent account of the incident. An interior ministry official confirmed that the protesters had been accompanied by armed Shia militia.

Friday’s march was scheduled to begin after weekly prayers in Sadr City, a sprawling Shia district of Baghdad, which is a stronghold of Sadr’s Mehdi Army, a loosely organised militia.

“It’s to support Hezbollah, and will take off after Friday prayers,” Sadr spokesman Akil Al Bahadli said on Thursday.

Sadr’s show of force, feeding on the anger of many Iraqis at the actions in Lebanon of US ally Israel, comes as US commanders warned that violence between Iraq’s Shia and Sunni communities could descend into civil war.

More
http://www.khaleejtimes.com/DisplayArticleNew.asp?xfile=data/focusoniraq/2006/August/focusoniraq_August25.xml§ion=focusoniraq
...

The Mehdi Army, like Hizballah, is an arm of a mass popular movement rooted in Shi'ite mosques but providing a measure of security and welfare. Like Hizballah it has ties with Iran, although unlike Hizballah — which was actually created by Iran — Sadr's links are more recent. While his key rival for Iraqi Shi'ite support, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (currently the largest party in Prime Minister Maliki's coalition), was based in Iran during the Saddam years, Sadr's movement remained inside Iraq operating underground. And in the chaos that followed the toppling of Saddam, Sadr's movement quickly filled the vacuum in the vast Shi'ite slums that house more than half of Baghdad's population, organizing security and basic services and turning what is now known as Sadr City into a vast stronghold. SCIRI's Badr Brigade, although smaller, was trained by Iran's Revolutionary Guard during its years in exile, and may be an even better organized Shi'ite militia than the Mahdi Army. It is integrated into some parts of the security forces, particularly the Interior Ministry forces, and has been deeply implicated in sectarian killings. It has also, on occasion, crossed swords with Sadr's men in the battle for supremacy among the Shi'ites.

Sadr's ties with Iran have grown steadily in the last couple of years, however, and he warned earlier this year that his forces would retaliate if Iran came under attack from the U.S. or Israel. His Mehdi Army fought two pitched battles with U.S. forces in April and August of 2004, both of which ended inconclusively with political deals. And like Hizballah in Lebanon, Sadr's movement, even as it maintains a private army, is now a key element of the democratically elected government.

But disarming Sadr's army may prove, if anything, even more difficult than disarming Hizballah in Lebanon. That's because the three-year campaign of terror against Shi'ite civilians by Sunni insurgents has led the community to see its militias, rather than the central government, as its only protection. As that violence escalates, the likelihood diminishes that these communities will support any effort to forcefully dismantle the militias. Nor can an agreement to disarm be easily orchestrated by removing the insurgent threat, since the branch of the insurgency responsible for targeting the Shi'ites is led by al-Qaeda in Iraq, the faction most implacably opposed to any reconciliation with the elected government.

Israel's campaign against Hizballah in Lebanon, moreover, has inflamed Shi'ite public opinion against the Coalition. Sadr has warned that his movement will not stand by passively in the face of attacks on Lebanon, and the popularity of that sentiment among Shi'ites was highlighted by the fact that more moderate voices such as Prime Minister Maliki and Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani echoed Sadr's harsh criticism of the U.S.-British opposition to an immediate cease-fire.

...

http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1222824,00.html
by more
Friday Aug 4th, 2006 7:49 AM
BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Tens of thousands of people marched through the streets of Baghdad on Friday, enthusiastically voicing support for Lebanon's Hezbollah militia.

Angry protesters chanted slogans, burned Israeli flags and waved Lebanese and Hezbollah flags in the Iraqi capital's densely populated Shiite enclave of Sadr City. They also held up placards with the portrait of Hassan Nasrallah, head of Hezbollah.

More
http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/meast/08/04/iraq.main/index.html