The Los Angeles Times reported Saturday that just as U.S. officials were trying to portray Sadr City, the vast Shiite neighborhood of northeastern Baghdad, as a "success story" for the U.S. troop escalation in Iraq, large numbers of demonstrators turned out there on Friday denouncing the presence of U.S. troops and chanting "No occupation!" and "No America!" -- The protest demanded the removal of a U.S. base there. -- The Times also noted that the Iraq escalation ordered by President George W. Bush is turning out to be larger than first announced, with "the number of additional U.S. military personnel being sent to Iraq to enforce the security plan [rising] to 28,700, including 7,200 support troops." -- In its report, the Washington Post said Sadr's call was "to resist U.S. forces who are trying to stabilize the capital." -- "Officials in his organization said the cleric was advocating a peaceful uprising," Karin Brulliard and Sudarsan Raghavan reported. -- The Post reported that the SITE Institute [SITE stands for "Search for International Terrorist Entities"; the organization was founded by Iraqi-born Rita Katz, and has been named in defamation suits brought by Islamic charities], gave this translation of Sadr's message to followers on Friday: "Raise your voices, all of you loving your brothers and united against your enemy saying as your leader taught you, 'No America, no Israel, no, no Satan,' by standing and demonstrating that way. . . . [H]ere you are standing up for the support of your beloved city; this city which the occupier wanted to harm, and tarnish its reputation by spreading false propaganda and rumors and claiming that there are negotiation and collaboration between you and them. But I am sure that you consider them as your enemies." -- The Post said Sadr City demonstrators numbered in the "thousands" and "denounced the neighborhood security outposts and garrisons being set up under the plan and demanded a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops," also noted something the L.A. Times left out: "Sadr's statement came one day after gunmen attacked a convoy carrying the mayor of Sadr City, Rahim al-Darraji, leaving him seriously wounded and killing at least two of his bodyguards. Darraji, a Sadr appointee, took part in negotiations with U.S. officials to allow American troops to conduct security sweeps and build a garrison in Sadr City." ...
The conflict in Iraq
Anger rises in Sadr City
PROTESTERS IN BAGHDAD SAY, 'NO AMERICA!'
By Tina Susman
** Sadr urges followers to unite against 'the grand devil,' even as the U.S. touts joint patrols in his stronghold as a success. **
Los Angeles Times
March 17, 2007
BAGHDAD -- Residents of the Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City on Friday showed signs of growing resentment toward the presence of U.S. troops in the area, chanting "No occupation!" and "No America!" in a march demanding the removal of a U.S. base there.
The protest came as U.S. military officials cited Sadr City, stronghold of anti-U.S. cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, as a success story in a month-old effort to improve security in Baghdad. It also coincided with an announcement that the Pentagon is speeding up the deployment of 2,600 soldiers in a combat aviation brigade. Commanders, who need support troops for the military buildup here, had requested the early deployment.
The troops will bring the number of additional U.S. military personnel being sent to Iraq to enforce the security plan to 28,700, including 7,200 support troops. The security plan was launched Feb. 13 and is scheduled to be at full strength by June.
The Sadr City protest followed Friday prayers, which featured a statement from Sadr calling on followers to "raise your voices in unity" against "America, the grand devil." The statement, read by a prominent cleric close to Sadr, marked a toughening of his rhetoric as the U.S. touts its foothold in Sadr City.
The relationship between the United States and Sadr has become increasingly complex since the new security crackdown. Sadr frequently has called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. But in recent weeks he has become an indirect but crucial ally of U.S. military officials. He pulled his Al Mahdi militia off the streets when the plan was launched, reportedly as a favor to Iraq's Shiite Muslim prime minister, Nouri Maliki.
That accommodation has helped U.S. forces carry out their operations. But analysts have been suggesting that Sadr risks losing his credibility as a voice of resistance if he is perceived as helping the U.S. cause. Concern over that possibility could explain his statement Friday.
Sadr's whereabouts remain unknown and he has not appeared in public since the security plan was launched. His aides have denied U.S. officials' suggestions that he went to Iran to evade the crackdown, which will put tens of thousands of U.S. and Iraqi security personnel on the streets.
Two weeks ago, in a major step, hundreds of U.S. and Iraqi troops entered Sadr City to search for weapons and establish a security post there. The sprawling, poverty-stricken district in northeast Baghdad has a history of resistance to American forces, but there was no fighting when the U.S. and Iraqi troops arrived March 4.
Since then, U.S. military officials have cited Sadr City as evidence that Iraqis want to work with security forces to quell Baghdad's violence and that they no longer need militias such as Sadr's to protect them.
Residents marching Friday, though, said they were anything but accepting of the foreign forces. Some said they wanted U.S. troops out because they blamed the United States for the violence plaguing Iraq.
"It is the feeling of any patriotic citizen. I am not saying this as a resident of Sadr City but as an Iraqi: Since they came we have seen nothing but poverty, unemployment and hunger," said Raad Salman. He was one of several thousand people who joined the demonstration immediately after Friday prayers, which traditionally draw thousands of worshipers.
Two of the five U.S. combat brigades involved in the troop increase have arrived in Baghdad. There are about 142,000 American troops currently in Iraq, including 60,000 combat personnel and 82,000 support troops.
The 2,600 troops of the 3rd Infantry Division's combat aviation brigade, stationed at Ft. Stewart, Ga., will leave for Iraq in May, about 45 days ahead of their previous schedule. The request to speed up their deployment was made by Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq.
The aviation brigade, like other parts of the 3rd Infantry Division, had been on tap to go to Iraq later this year for its third deployment of the war. But with the buildup of combat brigades, the unit's Black Hawk, Chinook, and Apache helicopters will be needed sooner for medical evacuation, transportation, and attack missions.
Elsewhere Friday, at least two people were killed in attacks. One person died when mortar rounds exploded near a Sunni mosque in southeast Baghdad. Two rounds hit the area behind the mosque, and a third landed in front of it, causing some damage to the facade.
South of Baghdad, in Hillah, one person died when mortar rounds struck various parts of the city.
Police in Baghdad reported finding the bodies of 11 men who had been shot to death, apparent victims of Shiite death squads.
SADR URGES FOLLOWERS TO RESIST U.S. FORCES; THOUSANDS RALLY
By Karin Brulliard and Sudarsan Raghavan
March 17, 2007
[PHOTO CAPTION: Men gather in Baghdad to protest the U.S. military presence and denounce a garrison being set up in Sadr City as part of a month-old security plan for the capital. Followers of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr also protested in other parts of Iraq. ]
BAGHDAD -- Firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on Friday called upon followers inside his stronghold of Sadr City to resist U.S. forces who are trying to stabilize the capital. Officials in his organization said the cleric was advocating a peaceful uprising.
"Raise your voices, all of you loving your brothers and united against your enemy saying as your leader taught you, 'No America, no Israel, no, no Satan,' by standing and demonstrating that way," Sadr said in a message distributed at the Kufa mosque in southern Iraq, according to a translation by the Washington-based SITE Institute, which tracks militant groups. In recent weeks, Sadr has appeared to cooperate with U.S. and Iraqi troops as they implement a month-old security plan in Baghdad and other parts of the country, even as he has continued to criticize the American presence in Iraq.
On Friday, thousands of Sadr's followers demonstrated in several parts of Iraq, including Sadr City, to protest the U.S. role. They denounced the neighborhood security outposts and garrisons being set up under the plan and demanded a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
Sadr's statement came one day after gunmen attacked a convoy carrying the mayor of Sadr City, Rahim al-Darraji, leaving him seriously wounded and killing at least two of his bodyguards. Darraji, a Sadr appointee, took part in negotiations with U.S. officials to allow American troops to conduct security sweeps and build a garrison in Sadr City.
It was unclear whether Sadr, whose Mahdi Army militia has often attacked U.S. and Iraqi forces, was issuing a call to arms. "The statement calls for calming down and self-control and to be careful and cautious of the occupation forces and their agents, because we have become surrounded by them from all sides," said Haider al-Tarfy, a senior Sadr representative. Friday's communiqué was not Sadr's first condemnation of the American presence.
Last week, Sadr asked his supporters to "demand the occupier leaves our dear Iraq so that we could live in independence and stability." In late February, he said, "The security plan will not be good if it is controlled and ruled by our enemies, the occupiers." Those statements did not incite violence.
As U.S. troops have carried out raids in Sadr City as part of the security plan, the Mahdi Army has lain low. Friday's statement appeared to address recent public comments by U.S. military officials suggesting that the militia's low profile represented tacit cooperation with the security plan.
"And here you are standing up for the support of your beloved city; this city which the occupier wanted to harm, and tarnish its reputation by spreading false propaganda and rumors and claiming that there are negotiation and collaboration between you and them," the statement continued. "But I am sure that you consider them as your enemies."
Sadr's whereabouts are unknown. U.S. military officials believe he has fled to Iran; his supporters say he remains in Iraq.
One high-level Sadr City official said Friday that he believed Darraji, the Sadr City mayor, was targeted for working with the Americans and backing the security plan, and that Sadr's militia was probably to blame. He declined to be identified further out of fear for his life.
"The investigation is still in the beginning," the official said. "But all the accusations are against the Mahdi Army."
The official said Darraji's shooting could jeopardize the calm in Sadr City, causing residents to turn against the security plan and possibly leading to a return to violence.
Two Mahdi Army leaders reached Friday denied that the militia was behind the shooting. Hamza Hussein, who leads a small team of fighters, said the Mahdi Army has no interest in stirring new chaos.
"People are becoming thirsty for peace, for security, right now," Hussein said. "We all depend on the government and the security forces."
Mohammed Kasim, another militia commander, echoed Sadr, saying a U.S. withdrawal would be "for the good of Iraq."
--Special correspondents Waleed Saffar and Saad Sarhan in Baghdad and staff researcher Robert E. Thomason in Washington contributed to this report.