Feb 9 - Anti-U.S. Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr addresses mass rally celebrating pullout of U.S. troops. Nick Rowlands reports.
A large rally in Baghdad's Sadr City celebrates the withdrawal of U.S. troops. Hundreds of thousands gathered as Shi'ite anti-U.S. cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi army held a parade dubbed the "Victory of Resistance and Liberation Festival". Men dressed in prison jumpsuits break boards painted with British, U.S., and Israeli flags. Other men dressed in black carry coffins down the street. The U.S. military occupied Iraq for nearly nine years after the 2003 invasion, finally pulling out all its troops in December last year. Sadr - whose Mehdi Army militia fought the U.S. troops for some time - addressed his supporters from an undisclosed location. (SOUNDBITE)(Arabic) SHI'ITE CLERIC MOQTADA AL-SADR, SPEAKING TO HIS FOLLOWERS THROUGH SCREEN "America bet that the Iraqi people would receive it with flowers and that the young and the old would chant for it, but we bet that they would by targeted by bullets and stones and this is exactly what had happened. The sounds of the weapons of the resistance deafened their ears and scared them and they could not do anything to stop them, therefore they pulled out defeated and losers." U.S. intelligence agencies warned the security gains in Iraq could devolve into sectarian violence after the troop withdrawal. One day after the pull-out, the Shi'ite-led Iraqi government issued an arrest warrant against the Vice President, the highest ranking Sunni politician in the country. Nine years after the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein violence has fallen though almost-daily attacks still take place, and the power-sharing arrangement between Shi'ite, Sunni, and Kurdish sects remains fragile. Nick Rowlands, Reuters.