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Iraq's Shias march for Hezbollah
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.