By Khalid al-Ansary and Suadad al-Salhy, Reuters
BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Anti-U.S. Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr brought thousands of Shi’ite supporters onto Baghdad streets Thursday in a show of force against any extension of the U.S. military presence in Iraq past a year-end deadline.
Sadr’s threats to revive his Shi’ite militia and protests by his Sadrist bloc are testing Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s fragile coalition government over the divisive issue of whether American troops should remain on Iraqi soil.
The remaining 47,000 U.S. troops are due to leave Iraq at the end of the year. But Maliki has called on the country’s political leaders to discuss whether a contingent should stay on to support and train local armed forces.
In Sadr’s impoverished Sadr City stronghold, his supporters — wearing uniforms in the red, white and black of Iraq’s flag — marched in orderly blocks down a main street, stamping over U.S., British and Israeli flags painted on the tarmac.
Some waved banners proclaiming “No to the Occupation” while others, including young children, performed acrobatic martial arts kicks to break polystyrene panels, some painted with American flags, others with the words “Corruption” and “Terror.” read more