(AFP) – Jul 4, 2008
BAGHDAD (AFP) — Large crowds of Shiites on Friday denounced the security pact Baghdad is negotiating with Washington for a long-term US military presence in violence-wracked Iraq.
In Baghdad's Sadr City, the bastion of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, Shiite men, women and children shouted anti-American slogans as they demonstrated against the security deal after the weekly Friday prayers.
"No, no to colonisation! Out, out you occupier!" the crowd shouted in the centre of Sadr City where fierce battles raged in March and April between Shiite militants and US forces in which hundreds of people were killed.
The fighting ended with a truce on May 10.
Washington and Baghdad are currently negotiating a security pact on the long-term foreign troop levels in Iraq.
Last November US President George W. Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki agreed to sign the pact by July 31 this year.
However the country's political factions have strongly opposed the agreement, saying it would put Iraq on the path of "slavery."
On Thursday Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari tried to dispel such fears by saying that the agreement would not compromise Iraqi sovereignty.
He said if the two countries failed to sign the deal then Iraq may have to ask for the renewal of the UN mandate which expires in December 2008 or sign a separate bilateral deal with Washington.
The UN mandate is the legal basis for the presence of US-led foreign forces in the country.
Friday's protests against the security agreement reverberated across all Shiite regions of Iraq.
In the central town of Kufa, protesters chanted anti-US and anti-Israel slogans.
"No to America! No to Israel! We reject signing the agreement with the occupation," shouted devotees.
In the city of Karbala, an aide of revered Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani urged Baghdadto refrain from signing a deal that would compromise national interests.
"If the government signs the deal it has to preserve the interests of the people, not compromise sovereignty and not permit Iraq to be used as a base for attacks on neighbouring countries," said Sheikh Abdul al-Mahdi al-Karbalae.
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