100,000 rally against Iraqi constitution draft
The protest could reinforce the opposition of Sunni Arabs who dominate the insurgency and are bitterly against the draft constitution.
Supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr, who has staged two uprisings against coalition troops in Iraq, also protested against poor services during their marches, stepping up the pressure on the government.
Sadr supporters marched in eight cities, including 30,000 people who gathered for a sermon delivered on his behalf in a Baghdad slum district.
Mr Sadr returned to centre stage this week after his fighters fought a rival Shiite militia, the Badr organisation, raising fears of a new front in Iraq's relentless cycle of violence.
He is stirring hopes among his vast following at a time when Iraq's divided politicians have missed a series of deadlines for reaching a consensus on the constitution, which is expected to be put to a referendum in October.
Mr Sadr has also come out in support of Sunni opposition to the federal state that his Shiite rivals in government, with their Kurdish allies, have outlined in the charter.
The young cleric has gained followers by portraying himself as a champion of the poor and his cult-like popularity means he can quickly mobilise his fighters if a full-scale conflict with the Badr movement breaks out.
With an apparent stalemate in efforts to agree on the shape of a new constitution for Iraq, Shiites yesterday called for the charter to move straight to a referendum rather than seek parliamentary approval.
db: "Mr Sadr has also come out in support of Sunni opposition to the federal state that his Shiite rivals in government, with their Kurdish allies, have outlined in the charter." - Sadr + Sunni + Baath + ? = formidable opposition to the draft. Given that those who reject the document require only a two thirds majority in three out of eighteen Iraqi provinces, the so-called 'reaching out' to the Sunnis currently taking place is understandable.