Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has called on Iraq's parliament to
reject a security agreement with the United States, as tens of
thousands of his supporters rallied in Baghdad against the deal.
The demonstrators chanted anti-U.S. slogans and waved Iraqi flags as they marched from the capital's Sadr City district to the central Mustansiriyah Square onn Saturday.
A Sadr aide read aloud a statement from the influential cleric, who urged Iraqi lawmakers not to vote for the proposed security deal. He said the agreement will not end the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq, and will not give sovereignty to the Iraqi people.
The mass demonstration comes as U.S. and Iraqi leaders try to build political support for the draft security agreement. The deal would allow for the extension of the presence of American forces in Iraq after their United Nations mandate expires on December 31st.
The U.S. Defense Department has said the draft includes target dates for the withdrawal of at least some of the 154-thousand U.S. troops stationed in Iraq.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice briefed key members of Congress on the draft Friday to try to build broad political backing for it. It has not been publicly released.
The Bush administration has said the text does not need ratification by Congress. But a final deal will require the approval of Iraq's parliament and other bodies.
Separately on Saturday, Bahrain's foreign minister arrived in Iraq's capital for a visit aimed at improving bilateral relations between the countries.