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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.

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"We demand that President Obama stand with the Iraqi people by ending the occupation to fulfill his promises he made to the world," Ali al-Marwani told the crowd.

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"No, no to America; no, no to Israel," the demonstrators chanted, an echo of protests organized by Saddam Hussein before the war. Supporters also burned an effigy of former president George W. Bush.

"God unite us, return our riches, free the prisoners from the prisons, return sovereignty to our country ... free our country from the occupier, and prevent the occupier from stealing our oil," read Sadr's message.

He ended by asking demonstrators to shake hands with each other and the Iraqi police who helped protect them. Sadr organization guards were in charge of security at the demonstration with Iraqi police ringing the outside and Iraqi soldiers nearby.

As the rain stopped and the demonstrators flooded into the streets, hundreds lined up to shake hands and kiss the police officers on both cheeks – the traditional Arab greeting.

"The media says the Sadr movement is the enemy of the Iraqi security forces – that we attack the police and the Army – but we are brothers," says Ahmed al-Musawi, a student at the Medical Institute.

Policeman Ali Falah Ali stood in the square six years ago – a high school student at the time – when US forces put a noose around the statue of Saddam. He says he believes the growing number of Iraqi security forces can now take care of their own country.

"God willing, with the number of troops here, either this year or by next year, day after day the situation will improve," he says.

Although the anniversary in recent years has been celebrated as a public holiday, authorities said Wednesday that government offices and schools would stay open. Teachers showed up, but few children came to classes. In the commercial area of Karrada, shops were open.

"Business is good – a lot of people are renovating," says Ghanam Ghazi, overseeing painters at a new men's clothing store. He says security has generally been good, but people are worried about a spate of bombings that have killed dozens of Iraqis in Baghdad.

He and his coworker, Ahmed Thamer, say they have little faith in Obama, and want proof that US forces are leaving. The US president visited Iraq Tuesday and told Iraqi leaders and US officials that it was time to phase out America's combat role.

Mr. Thamer says that his childhood friend, Ahmed Ismael, was shot dead by US forces in 2004 when his car got in the way of an armored convoy in Baghdad.

"They're not like the Iraqi troops," he says. "The Iraqi troops – we can talk to them, we can deal with them."