the Disillusioned kid: Firdaus Square, Take 2
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Saturday, April 09, 2005

Firdaus Square, Take 2

Timx and Juan Cole have both posted on a protest in Baghdad today, involving "tens of thousands" (according to corporate media reports) of demonstrators, demanding the withdrawal of foreign troops and that Saddam Hussein be put on trial. The demonstration took place in Firdaus Square, where the much-televised (and apparently staged) toppling of the statue of Saddam took place two years ago and was called to mark the anniversary of that event. The event was organised by supporters of "radical cleric" Moqtada al-Sadr and according to Cole is the largest demonstration his movement has achieved. While protests occured throughout Iraq, the symbolism of the Baghdad demonstration's location (and the fact that most journalists are too scared of being kidnapped or killed to travel far from Baghdad) meant that this was the one which attracted the most media attention.

Protesters burnt US flags and reenacted the toppling of the statue of Saddam pulling down efigies of Bush and Blair (which may remind some of you of the demo in London during Bush's visit to the UK in November 2003). These were apparently dressed in orange jumpsuits, recalling those held in detention US facilities such as Guantanamo Bay. They chanted, "No America! No Saddam! Yes to Islam!" This essentially sums up Sadr's political programme, albeit he'd be appreciative if he was the one responsible for interpreting Islam.

Clearly this is a bad thing for the Americans. The US fought Sadr's Mehdi Militia twice last year. They intiailly thought they had defeated them by late May, only for fighting to begin again in August, this time centred around the Shia holy city of Najaf (site of the Shrine of Ali). Since then he had largely gone quiet and seemed to have been co-opted by the US and Iraqi Authorities. This latest flexing of his muscles will be a worrying reminder to the occupiers and the new Iraqi Assembly that they have a long way to go before they genuinely control Iraq.

This report claims that clerics from the Association of Muslim Scholars, which is alleged to have links with insurgents, but is at the very least sympathetic towards their aims, also called on people to join the protest. Cole, however, suggests that AMS "declined to have their Sunni Arab followers join the Shiites at Firdaws Square." Other reports seem to suggest that they held a protest elsewhere, although it isn't clear. Indeed with the paucity of journalists in Iraq and the even smaller number actually prepared to travel around it is not entirely clear how reliable mainstream press reports are anyway. If Cole is correct in his assesment than it seems reasonable to accept his assertion that this "points to continued sharp ethnic divisions that have made it difficult for Iraqi nationalists to unite against the American presence." If Cole is wrong and Sunni and Shia groups opposed to the occupation have begun to work together than things may be even worse for the occupiers than we'd realised.

(I can't be bothered to rehearse my thoughts on the role of radical Islam within anti-occupation movements in Iraq, so instead I'll just point you in this direction.)

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