BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Muslims have poured out of mosques and into the streets after the first Friday prayers in a U.S.-controlled Baghdad, calling for an Islamic state to be established.
Carrying Korans, prayer mats and banners, tens of thousands marched in the city`s biggest protest since U.S. forces toppled Saddam Hussein over a week ago — a protest unthinkable under the former president.
“Leave our country, we want peace,” read one banner aimed at the Americans who seized control nine days ago but failed to check looting, power blackouts and chaos in the aftermath.
“No Bush, No Saddam, Yes Yes to Islam,” read another.
The organisers called themselves the Iraqi National United Movement and said they represented both Iraq`s majority Shi`a Muslims and powerful Sunnis.
Shias, close to Iran`s leaders, were marginalised under Saddam`s Sunni-dominated government and some Iraqis have feared sectarian clashes could erupt.
The marchers came from several mosques and converged in a central district, Aadhamiya, for the peaceful protest.
One of the biggest columns came from Abi Hanifah Nouman mosque. Its dome was bombed in the U.S.-led war.
The imam, Ahmed al-Kubaisi, said in his sermon that the United States invaded Iraq to defend Israel, and also denied Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
“This is not the America we know, which respects international law, respects the right of people,” he said.
His followers poured out chanting anti-U.S. slogans and waving banners that read “No to America. No to Secular State. Yes to Islamic State” and “We reject American hegemony”. Saddam`s Baath Party, which ruled for three decades, was secular.
Standing on and all around a tanker truck crawling down the road, the men, some in turbans and with long beards, chanted: “We are Sunni and Shi`ite brothers, we will not sell this nation.”
In Tehran, one influential conservative Shi`ite cleric also called for the U.S.-led forces to leave.
“Unite with each other and send America and Britain out of your country. It is a duty for the Iraqi nation,” Ayatollah Mohammad Emami-Kashani said in a sermon broadcast live on radio.
The United States has said a former U.S. general will lead an interim government in Iraq for an indefinite period but insists it will hand over control as soon as possible.
“People will have the right to demonstrate in a free Iraq,” said U.S. military spokesman Brigadier General Vincent Brooks.
“There may be some that say, `Get the coalition out of here`.”
“We want the governance of Iraq to be handed over to, passed over to the Iraqi people as quickly as we can and we`ve made a commitment to not staying any longer than it takes to get those key actions completed,” he told a news briefing on Friday