BAGHDAD (AFP) - Thousands of followers of the radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called for an end to US occupation of Iraq on Friday, but the government ignored the sixth anniversary of the invasion. Death tolls have tumbled since Iraq's deadliest days in late 2007, and in just three months time American forces are to withdraw from major cities and towns in a prelude to a total pullout in 2011. Neither the Iraqi authorities nor the US military marked the March 20, 2003 invasion that toppled president Saddam Hussein and his totalitarian Baath party from power. But Sadr's devotees used Friday prayers to call for an end to the American presence. "We reject occupation... occupiers out," people chanted, fists raised, in Sadr City, an impoverished district of northeast Baghdad, as a US flag was set ablaze. Sheikh Haidar al-Jaberi, a member of Sadr's politburo, called for a major demonstration on April 9, anniversary of the fall of Saddam's Sunni regime. "March 20 should be a festival, but after what the Americans have done, it's a sad day," Jaberi said, referring to the start of spring. "They never kept their promises," added Qassem Zamel, who came to pray. "The Americans came to liberate us from a dictator but they have destroyed the country," said Zamel, who is in his 60s. He said his three sons were arrested in March 2003 and were still in jail, although he did not know why. Shias - the majority in Iraq - suffered repeated purges under Saddam's brutal 35-year reign and had at first welcomed the "Iraqi Freedom" invasion. The campaign that ousted Saddam was supposed to bring democracy and a better life, but most Iraqis were caught in the maelstrom of violence that swept the country. Sunni insurgents and Al-Qaeda fought US troops and unleashed sectarian warfare with Shia militia such as Sadr's Mahdi army. Meanwhile in Tokyo, about 500 Japanese demonstrated to call for an early withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, as well as from Afghanistan. They carried banners that read: "Weapons can't solve the Iraqi and Afghan wars." "If we remain silent, I don't think the troops will withdraw" from Iraq and Afghanistan, said organiser Ken Takada. A report released on the eve of the sixth anniversary of the invasion underscored the plight of Iraqis. "Millions of civilians are still facing hardship every day," said International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) President Jakob Kellenberger. "Indiscriminate attacks continue to leave dozens of people killed or injured on a daily basis despite improvements in the security situation in many parts of Iraq." In 2007, 17,430 Iraqis died in violence, but in a sign of progress this fell to 6,772 in 2008. The first two months of 2009 saw 449 die, the lowest official toll since the invasion. "The humanitarian situation in many areas of the country remains serious despite the Iraqi authorities' considerable efforts to provide basic services such as water and health care," Kellenberger said. Two major bomb blasts this month killed more than 60 people and maimed scores more, serving as grim reminders of the risks. Despite such precariousness, US and Iraqi officials offer repeated assurances of a smooth transition as American troops pull out and fledgling Iraqi forces take control. Fears of a return to high levels of sectarian strife or even all-out civil war are played down by both sides, with the authorities working towards a semblance of something like normal life amid the ruins and countless concrete blast walls that litter Baghdad. The tourism ministry announced on Thursday that the first official Western tour group to enter Iraq since the invasion was visiting historic and religious sites. "This visit is a positive sign for the return of touristic activity to Iraq," ministry spokesman Abdul Zahra al-Telagani said of the five Britons, two Americans and a Canadian on an organised two-week trip. "It reflects the improvement in the security situation." Iraq, under UN sanctions for much of the 1990s, has been off limits to all but the most adventurous of Western tourists for many years.