BAGHDAD - Thousands of Iraqi Shi'ites rallied on Friday in the country's biggest demonstration yet to support fellow Shi'ite protesters confronting troops from Sunni Arab states in Bahrain.

The movement of troops from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states to help Bahrain's Sunni royal family quell the protests has galvanized Shi'ites in Iraq, Lebanon and Iran.

Around 10,000 followers of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr demonstrated in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood after Friday prayers over the situation in Bahrain, which risks exacerbating Iraq's own sectarian divide.

The Iraqis waved Bahraini and Iraqi flags and chanted "Yes, yes to Bahrain. No, no to the Saud family." "These protests are the beginning of support for the Bahraini people and if the Saudi and Bahraini rulers won't respond, we will act, even if we are forced to go and be human shields," said Muhanad al-Gharrawi, a Sadr aide in Sadr City.

Thousands of Shi'ites also took to the streets in the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf and Iraq's oil hub of Basra, calling for an end to violence in Bahrain.

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