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Iraq: Protests against US operations in Sadr City
Several thousand people protested last Friday following evening prayers in the first public expression of hostility toward the US military operations now taking place inside the densely-populated Shiite working class district of Sadr City in Baghdad. Demonstrators chanted “No occupation” and “No America” as they marched in opposition to the announcement by American commanders that they were establishing their first permanent base inside Sadr City’s limits, at an Iraqi police station.
The protest was called by Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose political movement and armed wing, the Mahdi Army militia, have effectively controlled Sadr City since the US invasion four years ago. The suburb—once officially known as “Saddam City”—was re-named in memory of Sadr’s father, a leading Shiite cleric who was assassinated by Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime in 1999.
In a statement published by Sadr’s office in the southern city of Kufa, Sadr called on his supporters to “raise your voices... against your enemy”. He denied that he had agreed to the deployment of US troops into Sadr City, accusing the occupation forces of “spreading false propaganda and rumours and claiming that there are negotiations and collaboration between you and them”.
Since the start of regular US patrols inside Sadr City on March 4, American officers have insisted they are doing so with the blessing of the Sadrist movement. Every indication on the ground has suggested this to be the case. The Mahdi Army, which has as many as 10,000 fighters in Baghdad, has disappeared from the streets and American troops have encountered no resistance. BBC TV filmed unarmed Mahdi army militiamen this week collaborating closely with US and government troops and officials in Sadr City.
The top US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, has publicly stated that Sadr agreed to the deployment after discussions with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and that, in exchange, US forces agreed to conduct searches and raids in a “respectable manner”. Petraeus’s subordinate, Major General Joseph Fils, has declared Sadr’s cooperation to be a “factor in the way we’ve been able to go into Sadr City this early, so quickly”.
Sadr’s latest statement reflects growing anger in Sadr City over the actions of American troops. Within days of entering the district, US soldiers were accused of indiscriminately opening fire on a civilian car, killing a man and his two daughters and seriously wounding a young boy. Dozens of alleged Mahdi Army fighters have been detained, driving the number reportedly arrested in the last six months to more than 700.