On anniversary of Saddam's fall, Iraqi protesters vent against US
Tens of thousands of Sadr’s Shiite supporters expressed solidarity with Iraqi security forces while demanding an end to the US occupation.
Tens of thousands of Iraqis crowded into the square Thursday where Saddam Hussein's statue was toppled, along with his regime, six years ago. Waving posters of Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr and demanding that President Obama fulfill his promise to withdraw US troops, their presence underscored the eagerness of many Iraqis to see the US leave – but also their apprehension about what comes next, especially after a week of bombings that have marred months of relative calm.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The demonstrators in Firdos Square were mostly young men, jubilant despite the pouring rain. Halfway up the decaying green concrete sculpture that replaced the towering image of Saddam Hussein, high school student Karar Abdul Hussein, himself symbolic of the new Iraq, clambered up to get a better view and wave an Iraqi flag.
"We were so happy when they brought down the statue, but now we want the occupation to end. The Americans are very tough against the Iraqis," he says after being persuaded to climb back down and talk.
Despite the recent bomb attacks, security has improved dramatically since Iraq pulled back from all-out civil war two years ago. For most people, a lack of jobs and essential services, including water and electricity, are now their main concerns. The drop in oil revenue has prompted major budget cuts by the Iraqi government, and long-overdue laws to share oil revenue and power have been stalled by political power struggles and a dead-locked Parliament.
At the age of 20, Mr. Abdul Hussein is working in a restaurant while finishing high school. His father, a member of Mr. Sadr's militant Mahdi Army, has been in detention since being arrested by US forces three years ago. The local Sadr office supports the family by paying them about $65 a month – more than the Iraqi government does for them.
"This is not democracy," says Nahab Nehme, a hospital worker, holding one end of a pro-Sadr banner. "When America came, they didn't do anything for Iraq – they moved Saddam out, but he was their servant, and the people who are in power now are their servants, too."
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki last year sent the Iraqi Army into Basra to fight Shiite militias, including the Mahdi Army, in what was seen as a turning point in both the Shiite prime minister's political forces and in security in the south of Iraq.
Sadr, whose forces rose up against US troops in 2004 in the biggest challenge they'd faced since the beginning of the war, waxes and wanes as a military leader, but remains a key political player. He is believed to be engaged in religious studies in Iran and is rarely seen in public these days. But an aide read a statement from him on the sixth anniversary of the regime's toppling, describing the American presence here as a "crime against all Iraqis."