On Friday, January 25, tens of thousands of Iraqis protested against the continued US presence in the country.
The protest took place in Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, within proximity of the US embassy. It was organized by the popular Iraqi Shia cleric, politician and militia leader, Muqtada al-Sadr, who called for a “million-man march” to end US operations in the country.
With approximately 7.6 million people in Baghdad, the number of Iraqis attending the protests in the capital clearly fell shy of a million. Signs critical of US President Donald Trump and the American military were seen alongside a sea of Iraqi flags.
“Today’s protest is a referendum called for by the Iraqi people who consider the presence of US forces within the country a danger to them and to the region,” said civil servant Asad al-Hashemi.
“We want to reclaim our sovereignty,” he added.
Killing of Soleimani
The latest wave of Iraqi anger directed at the US is a result of the assassination of Iranian commander, Qasem Soleimani, which occurred on Iraqi soil on January 3, 2020.
The strike also killed an Iraqi commander, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
Iraqi critics claim that the US used the country as a base to start an international incident, which destabilized the country. They also say the US presence is a sort of occupation where Iraqis speaking out on the future of their country see their voices being drowned out.
Several days after the strike, the Iraqi parliament voted to oust American troops from the country. Iraq’s Prime Minister also sent a request for the military’s withdrawal. However, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has made it clear that the US has no intention of leaving.
A period of uncertainty
Currently, there are around 5,000 US troops in Iraq whose primary mission is to assist Iraqi forces in combating the presence of the Islamic State terrorist group in the region.
The rally comes amid a busy time in Iraqi politics. Political rivals are jockeying for a favorable position as the current Prime Minister, Adel Abdul-Mahdi, is expected to step down in his role as leader of the caretaker government.
Earlier this month, Abdul-Mahdi said he would leave the ultimate decision on pushing for US troop withdrawals to his successor.
“These complex conditions are difficult, particularly after the resolution of the Parliament for the withdrawal of forces and…this all requires a government of full authorities so the country can take a step forward,” he said in a cabinet meeting on January 14.