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Baghdad Protesters Rally Against US-Iraq Deal

Thousands of supporters of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr have rallied in the streets of Baghdad to protest a planned U.S.-Iraqi security agreement that would extend the presence of American forces in Iraq. VOA's Purnell Murdock has more from Washington.

Amid tight security, tens of thousands of Iraqi demonstrators chanted anti-U.S. slogans and waved Iraqi flags as they marched from Baghdad's Sadr City district to the central Mustansiriyah Square Saturday. Some burned effigies of President George Bush and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The mass demonstration comes as U.S. and Iraqi leaders try to build political support for the draft security agreement. The deal would provide a legal framework for U.S. troops to stay in Iraq after their United Nations mandate expires on December 31.

The U.S. Defense Department has said the draft includes target dates for the withdrawal of at least some of the 154,000 U.S. troops stationed in Iraq.

Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on Saturday called on Iraq's parliament to reject the U.S.-Iraqi security pact, saying it will not end the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq. His message was delivered at a rally by his aide Sheik Abdul-Hadi al-Mohammadawi.

"I support every Sunni, every Shi'ite and every Christian rejecting this agreement," the aide said reading the statement. "I denounce, condemn, reject and disown anyone who assaults the Sunnis, the Shi'ites, the Christians in Iraq and Iraq's minorities."

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and U.S. Secretary of State Rice briefed key members of Congress on the draft Friday. It has not been publicly released.

Gates says top U.S. military officers are satisfied that the proposed deal offers adequate protection to U.S. troops in Iraq. He also says the draft got a generally positive response from lawmakers he spoke to on Friday.

The Bush administration has said the text does not need ratification by Congress. But a final deal will require the approval of Iraq's parliament and other bodies.