The CS Monitor reports:
Monday's marchers included some Kurds in traditional dress as well as Sunni clerics, many of whom were bused by Sadr's movement from the city of Basra in the south. "Let's put out the fire of discord and chop off the snake's head," chanted some in reference to Iraq's ongoing sectarian strife.
There were wildly different estimates on the numbers at the Najaf rally. The U.S. military shrugged the protests off, claiming only "5,000 to 7,000" participants. Other news agencies reports vary from estimates of "tens of thousands" to "hundreds of thousands".
Whatever the precise numbers, the truth is this is nothing new. There has been non-violent resistance in Iraq from the beginning, although you'd never know that from the lack of coverage of these resistance movements.
The White House responded to the massive demonstrations with a typically dismissive sound bite. "Iraq, four years on, is now a place where people can freely gather and express their opinions," said White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe.
Jondroe's comment begs a little context: Opinions were indeed expressed in yesterday's demonstrations. But freedom? It is difficult to hear Iraqis described as free. Saddam Hussein is dead, sure. His regime is scattered, sure. But does the subtraction of dictatorship equal freedom? What about the addition of house raids, death squads, checkpoints, detentions, constant violence and curfews?