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Sadr's Calls For Mass Protests Fall Flat

2:38 PM, May 30, 2008 • By BILL ROGGIO
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Last week, Muqtada al Sadr, the leader of the Mahdi Army and the Sadrist political movement, called for massive demonstrations against the negotiations between the US.. and the Iraqi government over the basing of U.S. troops in the country beyond 2008. This Friday, the Sadrist movement carried out its first nationwide protest. The turnout was a flop.

The Associated Press put the best face on the turnout, saying "tens of thousands of Shiites" joined in. But the AP does not provide a breakdown on the protests.

AFP, Multinational Forces Iraq, and Voices of Iraq, an Iraqi news service, put the number in the thousands. Multinational Forces Iraq said more than 5,000 protesters were in Sadr Cit, and another 200-300 attended the protest in the Kadhamiyah district of Baghdad. AFP said "hundreds of Sadrists staged similar demonstrations" and said demonstrations were held in Basra, but no numbers were given.

There was a time when Sadr's calls for protests put hundreds of thousands of Shia into the streets. Yet Sadr couldn't get more than 6,000 to 7,000 join in on a protest on the day when most people attend mosque.

To put the current numbers into perspective, and estimated 2,000,000 Shia are estimated to live in Sadr City alone, and the Baghdad district is considered the bulwark of Sadr's support. Yet Sadr couldn't muster more than one quarter of one percent of the district's residents.

Sadr called for weekly protests, to be held every Friday after prayers. He may want to cancel the protests and blame the poor turnout on heavy handed tactics of the security forces, just as he has done in the recent past.