Tens of thousands of people marched in Najaf today to protest the continued American occupation, exactly four years after the fall of Baghdad. (No protests were allowed in Baghdad because the U.S. military shut down the streets.) The protest was anti-American all the way, with chants of “Leave, leave occupier!” and “No, no, to the occupation.” The event was organized (or called for, anyway) by Moqtada al-Sadr, and one of his key deputies spoke, saying, “We demand the exit of the occupier and withdrawal of the last American soldier and we also reject the existence of any kind of military bases.”
In my mind the most important thing here, after the fact that there is yet more evidence that the Iraqis want nothing to do with us, is the fact that it was a peaceful event. It’s safe to say that the majority of the participants were Shiites because al-Sadr is a radical Shiite cleric and major Shiite political player. But the Sunnis stayed away from what was essentially a massive target practice opportunity. Possible reasons: (1) al-Sadr cut some kind of deal, (2) the one thing that brings Iraqis together is hating Americans, or (3) both.
Couple this new sense of cooperation with the face that al-Sadr, who is possibly the most powerful man in Iraq, has called on Iraqis to cease attacking one another to instead focus on killing Americans, and we’ve got an even more hostile environment in which American forces must operate. Who thought that was even possible?
Update: The number of attendees is in dispute, with estimates ranging from 5,000 to “hundreds of thousands.”