|[Updated] Just in case anyone thought things might be getting better for Americans in Iraq, according to a story in the Los Angeles Times, “Chanting ‘Death to America!’ and burning effigies of President Bush and Saddam Hussein, tens of thousands of Iraqis flooded central Baghdad on Saturday in what police called the largest anti-American protest since the fall of Baghdad exactly two years ago.” A story in the Independent put the number of demonstrators at 300,000.|
Of course, such an expression of free speech would have been impossible under Saddam Hussein’s regime.
“This is the first manifestation of freedom in Iraq,” said Lt. Ali Muhsin of the Iraqi national guard, raising his voice to be heard over the din. “We have never witnessed such a thing before. In the old days, people would only have been able to do this if they were hailing Saddam. Now they are protesting for their rights.”
But the occupation is getting old, and the continued American presence is at least partly what motivates the Sunni insurgency. “Two years have passed and all we see is bloodshed, destruction and looting,” said Sheik Harith al-Dahri, leader of the Association of Muslim Scholars. The occupation forces are “killing the Iraqi people daily,” he said. “Opinion polls confirm that two-thirds of Shia Arabs – 60 per cent of Iraq’s population – as well as an overwhelming majority of Sunnis want US troops to leave immediately or in the near future. The Kurds, a fifth of Iraqis, are the only community fully to support the US presence.”
But there are new signs of a split in the insurgency, between those who have targetted Iraqis in any way connected with the occupation and “nationalists” who “say that resistance to the Americans is being discredited by the kidnapping and killing of civilians. ‘They have tarnished our image and used the jihad to make personal gains,’ Ahmed Hussein, an imam from a mosque in Ramadi, was quoted as saying.” Posters in Ramadi, “a Sunni Muslim city on the Euphrates river west of Baghad,” threaten “extreme resistance fighters.”