In the four years since the fall of Baghdad, it is hard to imagine how the situation in Iraq could have changed so much. As American troops swept into the Iraqi capital on April 9, 2003, they were welcomed by thousands of jubilant Iraqis who took to the streets, buoyed up by the hope of freedom and a better life.
But the situation today could not be more different. The radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has called for a million-strong anti-US demonstration in Najaf to coincide with the anniversary. The US and its forces are the focus of al-Sadr’s anger. He has demanded a withdrawal of all coalition troops.
Iraqis have heeded his call in their thousands, crowding onto buses and blocking the 200 kilometre road leading to the Holy City. In Baghdad itself, a total ban on vehicle traffic is already in place, amid fears of car bomb attacks. US officials, meanwhile, have responded to al- Sadr’s rallying call. They say it is proof that their latest troop offensive and crackdown on militia groups is working.