Crowds of followers of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr chanted anti-US slogans as they began a march in Baghdad protesting the American occupation of Iraq.
The march began at the cleric's Sadr City bastion in eastern Baghdad and was to end at nearby Mustansiriyah Square where the protestors planned to burn the effigies of US President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
The protest, which was to be organised on April 9 — the anniversary of the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime — was being held Saturday and came at a time when Washington and Baghdad are negotiating a crucial security deal.
“No, No, to America! No, No to the devil!” shouted the men, women and children as they walked through the dusty streets of Sadr City towards Mustansiriyah Square — a distance of three kilometres (two miles).
Carrying Iraqi flags and banners of the Sadr movement, the demonstrators demanded an end to the US occupation of Iraq.
“Get out occupier! We demand an end to the occupation!” shouted the crowd of people, some of them draped in Iraqi flags.
Supporters of Sadr had gathered since last night at Sadr City's Mudhaffar Square where the protest march began.
The demonstration comes as US and Iraqi officials are negotiating a security deal which would decide on the future of American forces in the country after the present UN mandate ends in December.
But discussions between the two sides have been deadlocked over the Iraqi government's call to end the legal immunity enjoyed by American soldiers in the country.
Sadr and his followers are opposed to any kind of deal with Washington that would keep American forces in the country.
The cleric, reportedly to be in Iran, has been a strong opponent of US presence in Iraq since the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime in April 2003.
He had launched two bloody rebellions in 2004 from the Shiite holy city of Najaf which killed hundreds of his militiamen but established him as a hardline leader of the masses.
Sadr had called for the march on April 9, but had later cancelled it.