More than 5,000 Iraqis rallied Friday in northern Diyala province to denounce a crackdown on Shia-led demonstrators in Bahrain, with many volunteering to join the protests in the Gulf kingdom.
The biggest turnout was about 3,000 protesters in the city of Jadidat Al-Shat, with another 2,000 in Khales and some 500 in the provincial capital of Baquba.
"Thousands of volunteers are asking the Iraqi government to open the way for them to go to Bahrain to support their brothers there," said Fadel Mohammed Saeed, a religious leader in Jadidat Al-Shat, which has a large Shia population. Diyala province is predominantly Sunni, but with a large Shia minority.
In Baquba, demonstrators converged outside the provincial council building in the capital's centre, demanding that outside forces leave Bahrain, and calling on Arab governments to stand beside the people of Bahrain.
"We are ready to volunteer to defend the soil of Bahrain," read a banner carried by demonstrators in Baquba. Five people were killed Wednesday when security forces crushed a month-old pro-democracy sit-in at Manama's Pearl Square, after a Saudi-led force of about 1,000 troops entered the Sunni-ruled Gulf state to help restore security.
"Bahrain is free, free, Gulf forces out, out," demonstrators chanted in Baquba, many of them carrying Bahraini flags. Shia around the Middle East have denounced the crackdown, with nationwide protests called in Iraq on Friday by radical Shia cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr.
Several hundred protesters also were gathering at Baghdad's Tahrir Square for protests after weekly Friday prayers. In the holy city of Najaf in central Iraq, the spiritual guide of the Shia sect, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, suspended religious classes for the day in solidarity with the people of Bahrain, a source in his office said.