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Rebuilding Iraq

Tens of thousands condemn war in Iraq

By Caroline Drees, Reuters, 3/29/2003

    Rebuilding Iraq

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 TEXT

Speeches, reports, documents

CAIRO -- Tens of thousands of Arabs demanding an end to the war on Iraq poured out of mosques and into the streets of several Arab cities yesterday, inspired by sermons condemning the war and its rising civilian death toll.

"Death to America!" and "Long live Iraq," shouted protesters in Gaza, while Egyptian demonstrators called on Iraqis to wage "jihad" against the invading US and British forces.

"Oh America, pull your army back! The Arab army will stomp all over you," shouted worshipers after prayers in Cairo.

Some 30,000 protesters took to the streets in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli and the Palestinian city of Gaza, while thousands of others packed streets and squares in other towns from Bahrain to Egypt to vent their fury against the war.

There were no initial reports of violence, a week after at least two people were killed and many injured in clashes with police after Friday prayers in several Arab cities.

In Cairo, the Arab world's biggest city with about 17 million people, between 5,000 and 10,000 people held a peaceful rally outside the historic al-Azhar mosque at the heart of the city, many chanting slogans including: "With our soul and our blood, we sacrifice ourselves for Iraq."

The well-organized protest stood in stark contrast to last Friday's demonstration, which turned chaotic and violent as worshippers hurled furniture, rocks and shoes at police, and some protesters set a firetruck alight.

Demonstrators, many carrying Iraqi flags and pictures of President Saddam Hussein, also packed the main square of the West Bank's largest city Nablus, as some burned an effigy of President Bush and an Israeli flag.

Palestinian protesters also blasted Arab leaders, calling them "collaborators" with the invading forces. Many Arabs accuse their governments of failing to protect fellow Arab state Iraq, despite efforts by regional leaders to convince restive publics they had tried to avert the war.

Several states such as Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain have earned the ire of ordinary Arabs for hosting US forces and serving as vital springboards for the war.

In the Gulf state of Bahrain, which hosts the US Fifth Fleet, about 400 people protested against the war.

Preachers at mosques throughout the Arab world, which ranges from longtime US allies to states Washington accuses of "terrorism," also condemned the war.

"Muslim Iraq is witnessing a frenzied war and fierce battles, scattered bodies and ripped up remains, people lost, people imprisoned . . . hundreds of dead," said prayer leader Imam Saleh bin Hamid in a televised sermon from the main mosque in the Muslim holy city of Mecca.

"This war must be stopped immediately, and this aggression must end. It's a losing war, with no victor," bin Hamid said. His words were much stronger than last week's sermon at the Saudi mosque, which did not even refer to Iraq directly.

In the Gulf Arab state of Kuwait, which was invaded by Iraq in 1990 and served as a launchpad of the current war, Shiite prayer leader Haj Saleh Jawhar said the Iraqi people were suffering most from the "illegal and sinful war."

"America does not want freedom for the Iraqi people. It wants to install its puppets and subdue Muslims until we become a voice for America," he said. Jawhar called the United States "an absolute evil," but also said Kuwait would face destruction by Iraq if American forces withdrew.

Lebanon's top Shiite Muslim cleric, Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, condemned "American massacres in Baghdad, Basra, Nassiriya, and Najaf against Iraqis" which he said were committed under the guise of "liberating Iraq from its regime."

"The war by America, Britain, and their allies on Iraq has uncovered the ugly face of arrogance in its crimes against civilians," he said in Beirut.

In Cairo the state-appointed head of al-Azhar, Sheikh Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, told worshipers that "the aggression against the Iraqi people is unjust, and the people who are unjust must be resisted." He called on the global community to rise up in defense of the Iraqi people.





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