Hundreds of Iraqi women defy cleric to protest authorities

Hundreds of Iraqi women of all ages flooded central Baghdad on Thursday alongside male anti-government protesters, defying an order by powerful cleric Muqtada al Sadr to separate the genders in the rallies. Some were veiled, others not, still more wrapped their faces in black-and-white checkered scarves. Most carried roses, Iraqi flags or signs defending their role in the regime change demonstrations.

"We want to protect women's role in the protests as we're just like the men. There are efforts to kick us out of Tahrir but we'll only come back stronger," said Zainab Ahmad, a pharmacy student. Ahmad appeared to be referring to controversial cleric Sadr, a powerful figure who first backed the rallies when they erupted in October but who has since sought to discredit them.

And a few moments before Thursday's women's march began, Sadr once again took to Twitter to slam the protests as being rife with "nudity, promiscuity, drunkenness, immorality, debauchery ... and non-believers." In a strange turn, he said Iraq must not "turn into Chicago," which he said was full of "moral looseness" including homosexuality, a claim that was immediately mocked online.

Sadr, who has a cult-like following of millions across Iraq, has faced unprecedented public criticism in recent weeks for his dizzying tweets on the protests.

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