Tens of thousands of loyalists of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr rallied in south Iraq Monday decrying poor services and rampant graft on the ninth anniversary of the US-led invasion against Saddam Hussein.
Protesters flooded the centre of the southern port city of Basra for the rally, with demonstrators waving Iraqi flags and portraits of the anti-US Shiite cleric and his father, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, killed in 1999 by assailants thought to have been sent by Saddam.
Reading remarks composed by Sadr, currently in Iran, Sheikh Assad al-Nassari told the crowd: “We cannot rest when there is injustice against us.”
Demonstrators, many of whom came from different provinces to take part in what was dubbed the “Day to Support Oppressed Iraqis”, shouted: “Yes to rights! Yes to humanity! No to injustice! No to poverty! No to corruption!”
Some protesters held aloft electrical cables, water canisters and shovels to symbolise the poor services that plague Iraq. Others carried empty coffins with words plastered on them such as “democracy”, “electricity”, “education” and “services”.
Despite increasing oil production, Iraq suffers from sporadic electricity, with power cuts multiplying during the boiling summer, poor clean water provision, widespread corruption and high unemployment.
Sadr’s movement, which counts around 40 MPs and several ministers as part of its political bloc, organised the demonstration to coincide with the ninth anniversary of the US-led invasion that overthrew Saddam.
The rally had no widespread anti-American message, though some protesters held aloft placards that read “No to America” and “No to Israel”.
US forces, who numbered nearly 170,000 at their peak in Iraq, withdrew from the country in December, and now just 157 soldiers remain under the charge of the US embassy in addition to a marine detachment responsible for the diplomatic mission’s security.
In recent years, the Sadrist movement had organised demonstrations on April 9, to coincide with the day the US officially ousted Saddam.
The protest comes just 10 days before Baghdad is due to host an Arab League summit, the first of its kind to be held in the Iraqi capital since Saddam’s 1990 invasion of neighbouring Kuwait.