Shi'ites take to the streets of Baghdad

Hundreds of thousands chant "Death to Israel, Death to America."

anit israel rally 298 ap (photo credit: AP)
anit israel rally 298 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Hundreds of thousands of Shi'ites thronged the streets of a Baghdad slum Friday to show support for Hizbullah as Arab anger toward Israel mounted on the Muslim holy day. Such protests have even reached Saudi Arabia, where public discontent is rare. Demonstrators also took to the streets of Damascus and Cairo but their numbers were dwarfed by the massive turnout in Baghdad, organized by radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Crowds of al-Sadr supporters from across Iraq's Shi'ite heartland converged on the capital's Sadr City district, chanting "Death to Israel, Death to America" in the biggest pro-Hizbullah rally since Israel launched attacks against the guerrillas in Lebanon on July 12. Demonstrators, wearing white shrouds symbolizing willingness to die for Hizbullah, waved the guerrillas' banner and chanted slogans in support of their leader Hassan Nasrallah, which has attained a cult status in the Arab world for its defiance of Israeli military power. "Allah, Allah, give victory to Hassan Nasrallah," the crowd chanted before burning Israeli and American flags. The rally went off peacefully - a remarkable achievement in a city where bombings and shootings have plunged the Iraqi capital into a security crisis. Sadr City is under the effective control of the cleric's Mahdi Army militia, which maintains its own security network. At least five members of the Iraqi parliament from al-Sadr's movement attended the demonstration, but the young cleric himself was not there, presumably because of concerns for his safety. Hundreds of Saudi Shi'ites have marched streets over the past three days in al-Qatif municipality on in the Gulf coast region, where there are a high concentration of Shiites. Under the watchful eyes of anti-riot police in a demonstration Thursday protesters chanted: "No Sunni, no Shiites, only one Muslim unity" while others waved posters of Nasrallah chanting "Oh Nasrallah, oh beloved one, destroy destroy Tel Aviv." Saudi Shi'ites make up 10 to 15 percent of country's 19.7 million citizens. Support for Hizbullah has spread among Sunni Muslims as well, despite tensions between the two sects over events in Iraq and the rise of Shiite-dominated Iran. During Friday prayers at the Tarek bin Zayed mosque in Bahrain, Sunni preacher Sheik Salah al-Jodar warned against edicts such as the one from the Saudi cleric against support for the Shiite fighters. Such fatwas are "only benefiting the Zionist entity... the ones who are resisting are the Lebanese people and we have to support them," he said.