BAGHDAD - Thousands of Sunni and Shiite Muslims backed by cars full of food and medical supplies headed on foot Thursday toward the town of Fallujah which has been besieged by US forces.
The protesters answered a call by Muslim groups for a peaceful march to carry supplies to residents of the Sunni town where dozens of Iraqis have been killed since US marines launched an offensive Sunday to wipe out insurgents.
"Our families in Fallujah, remember that our dead go to heaven and theirs to hell," read a banner held by the marchers who had gathered early Thursday at the Um al-Qora mosque in west Baghdad where people donated food, drinks and medicine.
"No Sunnis, no Shiites, yes for Islamic unity. We are Sunni and Shiite brothers and will never sell our country," they chanted.
The marchers carried Iraqi flags as well as portraits of Sunni Palestinian Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, the head of the Hamas movement killed last month by Israel, and Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr, whose forces were fighting the US-led coalition.
"Allahu Akbar," or "God is greatest" sounded from the Um al-Qora mosque as people made the donations.
Sheikh Ahmad Abdel Ghafur al-Samarai, the mosque imam and a member of the Committee of Religious Clerics, said that "Baghdad residents decided to send initially 90 cars with food and medicines to Fallujah families."
"The Iraqi Red Crescent got a permission from the coalition, following negotiations over one day and one night to bring these supplies into the city," he said.
"We want to express solidarity with our brothers who are being bombed by warplanes and tanks. People donated these things, and women even sold their jewelry," he said.
"It is a form of jihad (religious war) which can also come in the form of demonstrations, donations and fighting. The people who are occupied have the right to fight occupation, whatever the means they use," he said.
He called on the US army to stop the operation in the city.
"This only brings hatred and enmity. Americans killed 20 more people than those who are actually carrying arms. They killed the elderly praying at the mosques, as well as women and children. This is indiscriminate killing."
He condemned the mutilation of the bodies of four Americans slain in Fallujah last week in an incident that sparked US outrage, but said US troops "are doing the same by mutilating the residential neighborhoods."