Hundreds of supporters of anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr took to the streets after Friday prayers in Shiite areas to protest plans for a longterm security pact between Iraq and the United States. Iraqi officials and lawmakers have opposed the proposed security accord, which would provide a legal framework for the presence of U.S.-led forces after a U.N. mandate expires later this year.
Sadrist Sheikh Assad al-Nassiri warned the agreement, which faces a July 31 target date for completion, will "humiliate Iraqis, rob the Iraqi government of its sovereignty and give the occupier the upper hand." "We do believe that the presence of the occupation is the main reason behind all of our crises, and unfortunately we hear some of our government officials calling on the occupation forces to stay," he said during a sermon in Kufa.
According to the AP, worshippers poured out onto the streets in Kufa as well as Baghdad's Sadr City after Friday prayers chanting "No, no to America! No, no to the agreement!" and carrying banners that said "we will not accept Iraq to be an American colony."
Al-Sadr has called for weekly protests against the deal, which also has drawn criticism from other senior Shiite leaders, as well as Sunni politicians and Iran. In Tehran, Friday prayer leader, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, thanked the Iraqi government and clerics in the country for their opposition during the past week to the U.S.-Iraq security pact.
"The great clerics took a very commendable stance regarding the pact," said Khatami. "The Iraqi government also took a praiseworthy stance and said it would not sign the pact."