Al-Sadr, still out of sight, flexes his muscles. From AFP, with thanks to PRCS:
HUNDREDS of thousands of Shiites burned and trampled on US flags as they gathered in the Iraqi holy city of Najaf for an anti-American rally called by firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on the fourth anniversary of the fall of Saddam Hussein.
Large crowds of men, women and children holding Iraqi flags and anti-US banners massed in Najaf and the nearby twin city of Kufa to protest against what they said was an American occupation of Iraq.
The rally is seen as a show of strength for the cleric who has not been seen for more than two months, since the launch of a security crackdown in Baghdad aimed largely at reining in his militiamen accused of killing Sunni Arabs.
The US military has said he is in Iran but his aides deny the claims.
In the capital Baghdad, where four years ago on Monday a giant bronze statue of Saddam was torn down, dramatically symbolising the fall of his regime, security was tight.
A 24-hour vehicle curfew was in place and all Baghdad’s key roads and bridges were deserted as people remained indoor for fear of attacks.
Jubilant Baghdadis who welcomed the invading US troops on April 9, 2003, now blame the rampant bloodshed and chaos on what even some of the country’s most senior leaders brand an unwanted US-led “occupation”.
The Shiite demonstrators are marching from Kufa to Najaf’s central Sadrain Square where top aides of Sadr – who is regarded by the Americans as the most dangerous threat to stability in Iraq -are expected to address the crowds.
Hundreds of banners saying “Down with Bush, Down with America” could be seen in the crowd as Iraqi police and army soldiers guarded key checkpoints in and around Najaf and Kufa.
Many in the crowds were seen burning US flags and some were trampling on and striking US and Israeli flags painted on the ground with their shoes, an act considered one of the worst insults in Arab culture.
Some Sunni religious groups were also seen participating in the rally.