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Iraq protesters demand US military pullout

Iraq protesters demand US military pullout
Supporters of Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr gather in Baghdad for a march to demand the withdrawal of US forces from their country on January 24.
BAGHDAD, Jan 24 (Agencies) | Publish Date: 1/24/2020 10:19:45 AM IST

Thousands of Iraqis rallied at two central Baghdad intersections on Friday after a prominent cleric called for a “million strong” protest against the American military presence, following the U.S. killing of an Iranian general and an Iraqi militia chief.

The initial march appeared not to gather further steam, however, largely dissipating after several hours. Some protesters headed to join separate anti-government demonstrators at Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, and others boarded buses to go home.

The march called by Moqtada al-Sadr aimed to press for a pullout of U.S. troops. Many anti-government protesters feared it could overshadow their separate, months-long demonstrations that have challenged Iran-backed Shi’ite groups’ grip on power.

Iraq’s top Shi’ite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, later called in his weekly sermon for political groups to form a new government as soon as possible to bring stability to the country and enact reforms to improve Iraqis’ lives.

Sadr, who commands a following of millions in vast Baghdad slums, opposes all foreign interference in Iraq but has recently aligned himself more closely with Iran, whose allies have dominated state institutions since a 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Sadr supported anti-government protests when they began in October, but did not publicly urge his followers to join them.

The demonstrations have since taken aim at all groups and figures that are part of the post-2003 system including Sadr, who although often considered an outsider is part of that system, commanding one of the two largest blocs in parliament.

Some lawmakers and protesters say the new, anti-U.S. element to public unrest distracts from the aim of toppling the corrupt political elite and could fuel more violence.

Men and women marched waving the red, white and black national colours, and chanted slogans against the United States, which leads a military coalition against the Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.

Some were wearing symbolic white robes indicating they’re willing to die for their country while others sat looking out over the square from half finished buildings, holding signs reading “No, no, America, no, no, Israel, no, no, colonialists”.

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