Thousands of Iraqis mark fall of Baghdad, call for US withdrawal
Thousands of Iraqis on Friday took part in an anti-US rally in central Baghdad, one day before the eighth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad and at the same time as the US secretary of defence visited the north of the country, DPA reported.
Thousands gathered in front of Abu Hanifa Mosque in the Adhamiya area carrying banners proclaiming "Occupiers, get out" and chanting slogans such as "America leave leave, We want a free Baghdad."
Protesters called on the government not to allow the United States to set up military bases in Iraq and expressed their rejection of "all kinds of interference in internal issues."
Hundreds more gathered in the western province of Anbar, calling on the US military to leave the country.
The Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq said protests would be held across the country on Saturday, April 9, in order to "send a clear message to the world that the occupier no longer has any means to justify its presence in Iraq."
Followers of influential cleric Muqatada al-Sadr, known for his strict anti-US stance, called for demonstrations Saturday without revealing the location of rallies for security reasons.
The protests came as US defence chief Robert Gates visited Iraq. It is expected to be his last trip, as Gates has said he intends to leave his post later this year.
Gates flew late Wednesday to Iraq for an unannounced meeting with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and a visit to US troops.
On Friday, he met with the leader of the northern Kurdistan region Massoud Barazani.
There are just under 50,000 US soldiers still in Iraq. All troops are scheduled to leave the country under a deal negotiated in 2008 by the administration of President George W Bush.