MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
And I'm Melissa Block. Four years ago, Baghdad fell to American forces, who pulled Saddam Hussein's huge statue to the ground. These days, many Iraqis blame the United States for the years of insurgent attacks, sectarian bloodshed and violent crime that have followed, and thousands of people turned out today to demand that American troops leave the country. NPR's Jamie Tarabay reports from Baghdad.
JAMIE TARABAY: Caius Mohamed(ph) remembers exactly where he was the day U.S. soldiers helped the crowd of Iraqis pull down the statue of Saddam in Firdos Square. He locked up his barbershop just 10 yards from the square and went home.
CAIUS MOHAMED: (Through translator) Regardless of what Saddam did, I felt it was a big insult to all Iraqis. I don't care what he did or did not do, but as an Iraqi watching an American pull down the statue, I felt really insulted.
TARABAY: For Mohamed, sitting at a desk in his barbershop, April 9th four years ago marked the beginning of the decline of the Iraqi identity. He says now, the country is split, and he accuses Iraq's officials of putting their interests ahead of the average Iraqi.
MOHAMED: (Through translator) April 9 is the fall of the Arabs. Look at the Iraqi abroad. He is not respected, and no one values him. With the fall of Saddam, the value of the Iraqi also fell. This is how I see it and everyone else sees it. I can't tell you any different.
TARABAY: Standing in line waiting for his turn in the barber chair is Mahdi Talud(ph). At first, he says, having foreign troops in Baghdad felt like liberation. Now, he says, it's an occupation.
MAHDI TALUD: (Through translator) Iraq will be better if the Americans leave. After that, even the armed men in militias will agree among themselves. The Americans will stand against any initiatives for reconciliation plans because it isn't in their interest.
(SOUNDBITE OF A CROWD CHANTING)
TARABAY: Anti-American sentiment reverberated across Iraq's south today. Tens of thousands of Iraqi men and boys congregated in the Shiite holy cities of Najaf and Kufa. They carried flags and banners, calling on U.S. troops to leave.
(SOUNDBITE OF A CROWD CHANTING))
TARABAY: The crowds chanted no to America and yes to Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical cleric who commands Iraq's largest Shiite militia and whose political clout has grown steadily over the past four years. Sadr called on Iraqis to unite and demonstrate peacefully today. Hasan al-Araji(ph), a Sadr spokesman, said the message was loud and clear.
HASAN AL: (Through translator) They are telling the occupation to leave because you can't exist among us. You are strangers, and strangers must go. Strangers have no place amongst the people of this country.
TARABAY: While today's march was peaceful, Sadr militiamen fought U.S. and Iraqi forces in another southern town, Diwaniyah, about 45 miles east of Najaf. U.S. commanders dispatched troop reinforcements to the town last Friday after Sadr supporters clashed with another Shiite militia. Sadr's whereabouts are disputed. American officials say he's in Iran, while his aides say he's still in Iraq.
Sadr issued a statement yesterday condemning U.S. troops and their coalition allies, calling them the armies of darkness and accusing them of provoking strife among Iraqis. He called on the Iraqi police and army not to cooperate with U.S. forces. Brothers are not to fight each other, he declared, and it's not right for some to defend the invader. Jamie Tarabay, NPR News, Baghdad.
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