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Anti-American protests grip Iraq

MOSUL, Iraq, April 18 (UPI) -- Hundreds of demonstrators occupied the central square of Mosul demanding the departure of U.S. forces, witnesses said Monday.

Security forces in Mosul told the Voices of Iraq news agency that at least 700 people gathered in the northern city to express frustration with the presence of U.S. military forces.

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The sources said the main demand was for U.S. forces to leave the country as planned. Sunni tribal leaders from Anbar province were among the demonstrators.

"The people of Anbar shall support the people of Mosul, to unite ranks and force government officials to respond for our demands, according to the constitution," a tribal chieftain told the news agency.

U.S. forces under the terms of a bilateral status of forces agreement brokered in 2008 are set to leave at the end of December. Pentagon officials said they were weighing their options beyond 2011, though U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said any extension would be up to the Iraqis.

Supporters of anti-American cleric Moqtada Sadr suggested there could be a rebel uprising if U.S. forces stay beyond December and tribal leaders in the northern province of Ninawa called recently for the departure of American forces.

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The U.S. State Department last week issued a travel warning for Iraq, warning no part of the country was safe for Americans, especially in the northern provinces.

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