Led by Muqtada Al Sadr, Iraqis celebrate departure of 'occupiers'
BAGHDAD // Supporters of anti-US Shiite cleric Muqtada Al Sadr, whose militia fought American forces, yesterday celebrated the departure of the "occupiers" from Iraq.
The last American soldiers except for a few under US embassy authority departed Iraq in December after almost nine years in the country.
Tens of thousands of people turned out for the event, which was held in Sadr City in northern Baghdad, an area named for Muqtada's father, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq Al Sadr, who was killed along with two of Muqtada's brothers in 1999 by gunmen allegedly sent by dictator Saddam Hussein.
"The armies of resistance terrified the occupiers, so they left after they lost," Muqtada said in a recorded message broadcast on a large screen at the celebrations.
American forces "turned from being a liberating army, as they said, into an occupying army," he said.
"The occupying forces were working for strife and destruction and to destabilise security. The occupier is not the one who can bring peace and safety to Iraq, but rather you, and only you."
At the urging of the cleric, his supporters shouted, "Yes, yes, to unity, yes, yes, to peace, yes, yes, to resistance."
Sadr also called "on the government to release the resisters," in an apparent reference to insurgents detained by Iraqi authorities.
Thousands of Sadr Movement members marched in formation with Iraqi flags at the event, while supporters gathered on the roadside, some holding banners reading, "No, no to America, no, no to Israel."
Among those attending the event were cabinet ministers, members of parliament and religious figures, as well as representatives of some Arab countries.
Hazem Al Araji, one of the leaders of the Sadr Movement, said: "Today is the day of the real victory for the people and a message of unity that we throw in the face of the occupier."
"The occupier can never divide the Iraqis," Mr Araji said.
"Today, the Sadr Movement is sending a positive message to all of the Iraqi people requesting that they preserve the country's unity," Abbas Al Bayati, an MP from Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's State of Law list, said.
Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, a Sunni, travelled from Anbar province to join the celebrations.
"We are participating today because there is no difference between Sunnis and Shiites, and everyone called for resisting the occupier," he said.
Updated: February 10, 2012 04:00 AM