Thousands of supporters of powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr protested in several cities in Iraq on Thursday against an anti-Islam film that has sparked anti-US violence in north Africa.
Thousands of people, including some MPs from Sadr’s parliamentary bloc, marched for about an hour in the Sadr City area of north Baghdad.
Protesters burned an American flag and carried banners including one that read: “Death to America, enemy of nations.”
Sadrist cleric Sheikh Ali al-Atwani called in a speech at the demonstration for the Iraqi government to close the US embassy in Baghdad, for the US to issue an apology, and for other Arab countries to shutter US diplomatic missions.
Hundreds of Sadrist supporters held a protest against the film in the shrine city of Najaf.
The demonstrators, circled by security forces, shouted slogans hostile to the United States and Israel, an AFP correspondent reported from Najaf, 150 kilometres (90 miles) south of Baghdad.
Sadr, in a statement, urged the Iraqi government to summon the US envoy and to impose a ban on visitors from the United States. He also called for “Christians around the world to condemn actions such as this film.”
The film, which portrays the Prophet Mohammed and Islam in a negative light, sparked fury in Libya, where four Americans including the ambassador were killed on Tuesday in a mob attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, and has led to protests at US missions in Morocco, Sudan, Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen.
The assault in Benghazi followed a violent protest at the American embassy in Cairo over the amateurish anti-Islam film made in the United States and reportedly promoted by a group of US-based Egyptian Copts.
In Kut, the capital of Wasit province, dozens of Sadrist supporters also protested against the film.
“We are rejecting abusing the prophet by the enemies of Islam,” demonstrator Anwar al-Samak said.
In Nasiriyah in the southern province of Dhi Qar, dozens of people marched, chanting, “We sacrifice for you, Messenger of God,” and burned an American flag.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki issued a statement condemning insults to revered religious figures in general, and the film specifically.
He called for cooperation among Jews, Christians and Muslims in “besieging the racists and not publishing their dangerous thoughts, and preventing resorting to violence.”