Saturday an estimated 300,000 Iraqis marched on Firdos Square in downtown Baghdad to show their opposition to the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Gathering in the same spot where Saddam’s statue was pulled down two years previously, the crowd waved Iraqi flags while chanting “No, no to Americans” and “Yes to Islam.” The protest was called for by cleric Moqtada Sadr and was primarily composed of Shiite Muslims drawn from the slums of Baghdad known as “Sadr City” as well as from other cities in Southern Iraq.
The protest is significant not only in that it is one of the largest public protests in Iraq since the U.S. invasion, but also in that it signifies a change in tactics by Sadr and his followers. Previously Sadr’s militia had militarily engaged U.S. forces, although they have been adhering to an informal truce since last August. Unlike previous marches called by Sadr, this Saturday none of the protesters were carrying weapons. Sadr’s followers said that the protest would be followed up with a non-violent campaign to force U.S and other foreign forces from Iraq
The U.S. military is reporting a decline in the number of attacks and U.S. casualties since January. While it is impossible to say with any certainty what the cause of this decline may be, it is reasonable to suggest that some of this reduction is due to splits within the various resistance factions. While the U.S. occupation remains very unpopular, Iraqis are becoming increasingly divided concerning resistance groups which target civilians. While some of the more militant Islamist groups continue to target Iraqi army and police, the influential Association of Muslim Scholars has reversed their position and called for Iraqis to join the army and police.