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    09 April 2005


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    A large number Shia Nationalist rallied in Firdus Square (LINK1, LINK2)against the occupation formed Friday and grew into Saturday to mark the second anniversary of the fall of Iraq to foreign occupation. The movement was organized by Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr, Sunni clerics urged their followers to join the protests in idea but not to support the Shia's highlighting the sharp divisions that are now aparent in Iraq. Sunni protests were held in Ramadi.

    [UDPATED: 12.55 am]
    Juan Cole points out this
    Thousands of Sunnis gathered in downtown Ramadi to protest, as well. The Association of Muslim Scholars declined to have their Sunni Arab followers join the Shiites at Firdaws Square, which points to continued sharp ethnic divisions that have made it difficult for Iraqi nationalists to unite against the American presence.

    Tens of thousands of Iraqis joined an anti-US protest in Firdus Square, where Saddam Hussein's statue was toppled on 9 April 2003 as millions watched on TV.
    Chanting "No to America" and "No to the occupiers", they pulled down and burned effigies of Saddam Hussein, US President George W Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
    …protesters poured into Firdus Square for a rally called by radical Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr.

    They joined a group who had been in the square since Friday night.

    Many of the demonstrators had traveled hundreds of miles from Shia cities in southern Iraq to attend the rally. Others came from Baghdad's Sadr City slum, scene of a failed uprising by Mr Sadr's Mehdi Army fighters last year.

    Iraqi security forces blocked off a number of streets in central Baghdad, while US soldiers kept their distance.

    The protest was a peaceful one aimed at urging US troops to leave and demanding quicker trials for Saddam Hussein and his aides, a spokesman for Mr Sadr said.
    Sunni clerics from the Association of Muslim Scholars had asked their supporters to join the demonstration.

    Interestingly, it looks like Saddam did try to avoid occupoation by making promises "to hold elections and even to allow US troops to search for banned weapons. But the advances were all rejected by the Bush administration…"

    via The Guardian

    The first approach appears to have been made last December through the CIA's former head of counter-terrorism, Vincent Cannistraro.

    "I was approached by someone representing Tahir al-Tikriti - the Iraqi intelligence chief also known as [General] Tahir Habbush - who said Saddam knew there was a campaign to link him to September 11 and prove he had weapons of mass destruction," said Mr Cannistraro. "The Iraqis were prepared to satisfy those concerns. I reported the conversation to senior levels of the state department and I was told to stand aside and they would handle it," he said. He later heard the Iraqi offer had been "killed" by the Bush administration.

    In the next three months, several more approaches from Iraq were made through third countries, US intelligence sources said. At one point, a meeting between CIA officials and Iraqi agents was arranged in Morocco but, according to the US sources, the Iraqi side did not show up.

    Iraqi intelligence was also offering privately to allow several thousand US troops into the country to take part in the search for banned weapons.

    Baghdad even proposed staging internationally-monitored elections within two years.

    I’m not saying that this was a reason not to go to war; the reason not to go to war was that we were lied to (by omission). But Saddam was bad and it is good that he is gone and I’d say that bushCo. knew that this line of thought would sustain positive support for the invasion well after the November 04 elections. I’m sure this was just a front by Saddam to stay in power but adds to the argument that diplomacy, caring a big stick, can or could have worked.

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