Followers of the anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr took to the streets on Saturday in a demonstration against the proposed security agreement between the U.S. and Iraqi governments, now being reviewed by Iraqi political leaders.
In a message to the assembled marchers, one of Sadr's senior clerics read a statement from him warning that "whoever tells you that this pact gives us sovereignty is lying," according to news services.
A leading Sadrist cleric at the rally, Hazim al-Arraji, said: "This is the voice of the Iraqi people from all over Iraq: We need the invaders to leave our country, no one wants them to stay. 'No invasion! Get out invaders!' That will be our slogan."
Sadr, a Shiite cleric whose Mahdi Army militia conducted two major uprisings against the U.S. occupation, has consistently called for an immediate U.S. withdrawal and has opposed negotiations that cede any authority to the Americans.
But there were signs on Saturday that the Iraqi unease with the security negotiations stretch beyond Sadr's faction. Quietly, some parliamentary leaders suggested that they, too, were not comfortable with the measure even though some of them were involved in negotiating it.
At a Friday night meeting with the leaders of the political blocs in Parliament, there were no clear statements of support except from the Kurds, who strongly backed the pact.
"Most of the political leaders asked for time to review the draft and then present their suggestions," said Haider al-Abbadi, a senior member of Dawa, the party of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
He said Maliki had reviewed the positive and negative aspects of the draft with the group, and several other people who were there said they thought it would take several more days before there was a clear sense of whether the pact could win approval.
The agreement sets the end of 2011 as a date for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, based on the performance and increasing capacity of the Iraqi security forces, and sets several specific dates for troop withdrawals from specific cities. But the draft also states that those "date goals" for city withdrawals could be changed by mutual agreement.