MOSUL, Iraq (Reuters) -Thousands of Iraqis rallied in the northern city of Mosul Sunday in one of the biggest protests yet against any extension of the U.S. military presence in Iraq.
Protests have swelled in the city since April 9 — the eighth anniversary of the day U.S. forces toppled Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad — but remain peaceful.
Sunday, around 5,000 people, including provincial council members and tribal leaders, rallied in the main square against extending the U.S. troops presence beyond the year-end deadline.
“We are trying to put pressure on the government to not even think about extending the presence of Americans (in Iraq), who brought havoc to our country,” said Sheikh Barzan al-Badrani, chief of the Badrani tribe in Mosul.
“The second demand is for the release of detainees held in Iraqi prisons ... and the other is to make reforms in the Iraqi government. We do not accept corrupt officials and regret that we voted for them.”
In a city seen as al Qaeda’s last remaining urban base, protesters have mixed anti-U.S. slogans with calls against corruption and pressed for the release of Iraqi detainees.
Rallies against an extension of U.S. troops in Iraq have also been held in Baghdad in recent days by the followers of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who have vowed to escalate military resistance if U.S. troops stay beyond December 31.
The United States is due to withdraw remaining troops from Iraq by December 31, more than 8 years after the U.S.-led invasion.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has said his army and policy are able to provide security in a country where bombings and attacks still occur daily, and foreign troops will no longer be needed after the end of this year.
Iraqis, inspired by rallies elsewhere in the region, have staged protests since February against corruption and a lack of basic services, but most have so far not demanded a complete regime change of their democratically-elected government.
Tribes from other Iraqi cities including Ramadi and Falluja in the west, Najaf in the south and Kirkuk in the north, have all travelled to Mosul to express their support for an exit of U.S. troops by the end of the year.
A two-day curfew in the city which was implemented on Thursday had also not deterred protesters, said Abu Ali, one of the organizers of demonstrations in Mosul.
Writing by Serena Chaudhry; Editing by Maria Golovnina