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Anti-US cleric denounces Iraqi PM at demo

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Anti-US cleric denounces Iraqi PM at demo

Post  Shilo on Sun Apr 11, 2010 8:13 am

Anti-US cleric denounces Iraqi PM at demo
April 10, 2010 · Posted in NEWS

NAJAF, Iraq — An anti-US cleric who is in negotiations to form Iraq’s next government openly pilloried incumbent Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Friday in a message to supporters at a major demonstration.

Key figures in the movement of Moqtada al-Sadr gathered in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, south of Baghdad, hailing a “new era” for the group exactly seven years after Saddam Hussein’s ouster.

Thousands of Sadrists marched in the streets holding Iraqi flags aloft — and trampling as a mark of disrespect on those of America and Britain, chanting “Yes, yes Iraq, no, no occupation.”

“Those who cling to their posts must not remain,” said Sheikh Hazem al-Araji, delivering a missive directly from Sadr, who has been in self-imposed exile in Iran for the past three years.

“People decided with their votes that the hunger, arrests, terrorism and the Baathists would not return,” he said.

“We are entering a new era which has no place for occupiers and oppressors … and people who put in jail those who resisted,” referring to Saddam’s Baath party.

The message was deliberately aimed at Maliki, whose forces routed Sadr’s now dormant Mahdi Army militia in the movement’s eponymous Baghdad stronghold Sadr City and the southern city of Basra in 2008, jailing many as a result.

Sadr, who has emerged as a political power broker, has been one of the most vehement opponents of the 2003 US-led invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq, cultivating a reputation as a radical cleric.

The Sadrists polled well in Iraq’s general election last month, gaining 39 seats in the new 325-seat parliament, making it a major player in the formation of a future coalition government.

Sadr supporters, however, have rejected the two leading candidates to lead the new government, Maliki and ex-premier Iyad Allawi.
An unofficial “referendum” by the group earlier this month gave the nod to Ibrahim al-Jaafari, an ex-premier under whom Iraq’s sectarian conflict erupted.

Sadr, whose militia clashed repeatedly with US forces after the invasion of Iraq ordered by George W. Bush and supported by Britain, is a likely political kingmaker who is currently pursuing religious studies in Iran.

Allawi gained 91 seats in the March 7 election, giving him a two-seat lead over Maliki. But that fell well short of the 163 seats needed to form a government and ushered in possibly months of coalition negotiations.

“We want a government that fights unemployment and which brings us security, public services and a better life,” a woman at the protest told AFP.

Friday marked seven years since a giant bronze Saddam statue was pulled to the ground with the help of US Marines in Baghdad’s Firdos Square, an iconic image that signalled the end of his dictatorial rule.

“We wanted to affirm our desire for freedom and independence and our wish to see the last American soldier leave,” said Mohammed Nuri, an unemployed man who travelled to Najaf for the protest from neighbouring Diwaniyah province.

In Karbala, meanwhile, another holy city south of Baghdad, a representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali Husseini al-Sistani, the war-wracked nation’s most revered Shiite cleric, urged politicians to form without delay a government of national unity that “does not exclude any political component”.

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