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Thousands of Shiites Protest U.S. Occupation in Iraq

On the fourth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad, thousands of Shiite Muslims called to action by Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr marched peacefully in the streets of Kufa and Najaf demanding an end to U.S. military presence in Iraq.

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  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Ed Wong, welcome back.

    We understand that the fourth anniversary of Baghdad's fall went pretty unremarked in the city itself, but it was quite different in the city of Najaf to the south.

  • EDWARD WONG, New York Times:

    That's right. Today in Najaf, there were tens of thousands, at least, of people marching in support of Muqtada al-Sadr's call to end the American occupation.

    Mr. Sadr put out a statement yesterday criticizing the Americans, and then he called for thousands of people to come to Najaf. There were some estimates that there might be as many as half a million people there, and basically they walked through the streets carrying Iraqi flags and telling the Americans to leave.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Well, Ed, U.S. and Iraqi officials had believed that Sadr was telling his Mahdi Army to lie low during the new Baghdad security push. What do they think he's up to now?

  • EDWARD WONG:

    Well, it's still unclear, because no one knows where Sadr is and no one knows what his true motivations are. A few weeks ago, the U.S. was telling us that they believed he was in Iran.

    Today, I spoke to one officer who didn't want to say where they thought he was. And Sadr's own office isn't telling us, either.

    So we can only look at what's going on, on the surface, and try and guess, you know, make a guess as to his intentions. What we're seeing is a huge protest in Najaf, and the protest isn't violent. There were not people taking up arms or shooting in the air during this march.

    Instead, it was very peaceful. It was very well-disciplined. And so we can only guess that, at this current time, Sadr is still content with playing his role as politician. He might have elements that are carrying on violence, but on the surface he wants to remain a politician.

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