Thousands of followers of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr took to the streets on Saturday in a demonstration against a pact that would allow American soldiers to stay in Iraq for three more years.
"It is a peaceful demonstration, demanding that the occupier leave and the government not sign the pact," Ahmed al-Masoudi, a Sadrist member of parliament, told Reuters. Demonstrators set fire to a U.S. flag.
According to the Iraqi authorities, the demonstration was authorised and security had been increased to protect the protesters, who were marching from Sadr's stronghold of Sadr City in the east of the capital to a nearby public square at a university. "They have permission from the prime minister and the interior minister to hold a peaceful demonstration," the government's Baghdad security spokesman Qassim Moussawi said.
"It is a part of democracy that people can protest freely, but we hope that they will understand the security measures that we have taken to protect them," he said.