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Iraqis in Shi'ite Cities Hold Anti-American Protests on Anniversary of Baghdad's Fall

Tens of thousands of Iraqis marched through two Shi'ite holy cities on Monday, marking the fourth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad by demanding the withdrawal of U.S. forces.

Men, women and children carried Iraqi flags and shouted anti-American slogans as they marched from Kufa to neighboring Najaf.

Radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr had urged Iraqis to protest the American presence and to demand that Iraqi security forces stop cooperating with the U.S. military. Several Iraqis wearing military uniforms were seen among the protesters.

In Baghdad, where U.S. forces toppled Saddam Hussein's government four years ago Monday, officials imposed a 24-hour vehicle ban to prevent car bomb attacks.

A White House spokesman, Gordon Johndroe, downplayed the anti-American protests, saying Iraqis are now free to gather and express their opinions, which he said they could not do under Saddam.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told VOA Kurdish Service that April 9 is a historic day for Iraq, the region, and the world for ending what he called Saddam's "dictatorial regime."

Zebari said Iraq has made a lot of progress in the last four years, especially in the political field by advancing a democratic culture and establishing certain freedoms. Zebari said many problems remain, but that there has been some improvement since the launch of the new U.S.-Iraqi security operation.