Iraqi security disperse protesters rallying against US presence

Mosul, Iraq – Iraqi police and military forces fired shots in the air to disperse hundreds of people in a northern Iraqi city who gathered Friday to protest against the US presence in the country, witnesses said.

Security prevented around 2,000 protesters from reaching al-Ahrar square in Mosul, where they planned to hold their protest, witnesses told the German Press Agency dpa.

Riot police set up security barriers across the city, some 400 kilometres north of Baghdad.

Iraqis have held a series of protests over the past two weeks in al-Ahrar square in opposition to suggestions that US troops might extend their stay in the country beyond their scheduled departure at the end of 2011.

Iraqi security forces cited a security threat and announced a sudden all-day curfew on Thursday in Mosul, ahead of the planned rally.

In the capital Baghdad, hundreds of protesters gathered Friday, amid tight security, to demand better public services, protest against unemployment and corruption and call for the release of prisoners, jailed for a long time without being charged.

Although both Iraqi and US officials have said in the past that a continued US presence was necessary for Iraq’s national defence, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki recently told a visiting US official that Iraqi forces were ‘ready and capable’ to protect the country.

During a visit earlier this month, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said the US was ‘willing to have a presence’ in Iraq beyond the scheduled withdrawal, if the Iraqi government requested it to.

Around 50,000 US troops remain in Iraq. The majority of US forces withdrew from the country last August.
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