BAGHDAD, April 9 (UPI) -- Tens of thousands of people took part in ceremonies near Baghdad commemorating the eighth anniversary of the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, officials said.
The demonstrators, followers of anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr, gathered in Mustansiriya Square in eastern Baghdad to call for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops by the end of the year, RIA Novosti reported Saturday.
"If the Americans don't leave Iraq, we will increase the military resistance and restart the activities of the Mehdi Army," Sadr said in a statement.
CNN said the protesters carried Iraqi flags and banners, with some chanting "Baghdad is a free country, America get out!" and "No for Occupation, No for America."
"If they decide to stay in our country, then we have to do two things: first is to escalate armed resistance and [then] lift the freeze on Mehdi Army," said Salah al-Obaidi, the cleric who read Sadr's statement to demonstrators.
The United States still has about 47,000 troops in Iraq, down from a high of 171,000 in 2003.