BAGHDAD - Tens of thousands of people poured into a central Baghdad square Friday for what had been billed as a "million-man" march, carrying Iraqi flags and signs and shouting “No, No America.”
Many wore white fabric, symbolizing their determination to see the U.S. military either leave Iraq, or be expelled. “
We want the invaders out,” said Ra’ad, a protester and father who does piecemeal work to feed his five children. “If the politicians don’t make them leave the military will.”
Prominent Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called for a "million-man" march to demand the expulsion of American forces after the U.S. killed Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s most powerful general, in a Jan. 3 airstrike at the Baghdad airport. Six others died in the airstrike, including Iraqi Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of a Shi'ite militia groups known as the Popular Mobilization Forces.
Iran retaliated with airstrikes on U.S. bases in Iraq, and both sides have threatened grave consequences if they are struck again.
Shi'ite politicians subsequently used their majority in parliament to push through a resolution calling for the U.S. military to be expelled from Iraq, while Sunni and Kurdish politicians, representing the country's two largest minorities, boycotted the vote. Iraq's president, a Kurd, declared that "the vote is not good for Iraq.”
Despite the vote, the United States has said it has no plans to leave the country and the Iraqi government has given no indication that it can or will try to force the U.S. troops out.
At the rally, some men expressed their anger by burning a paper American flag, while others carried signs saying, “I am an Iraqi against the presence of America.”
Some signs said more directly, “Death to America” or “Death to Israel.”
Anti-government protesters in Iraq have rallied every day since early October to demand government action on basic human needs like jobs, security and health care. At least 600 people have died in these demonstrations, but protesters say they are not giving up.
Friday’s protest was not related to those protests and was held in a different part of Baghdad.
Ambulances were lined up outside the rally, but by 2:30 p.m. the day remained peaceful. Gunshots rang out late the night before in the area, but no deaths or injuries were reported. “
It’s not good for our economy to have the U.S. here,” said Ra’ad, the protester. “They come here and they take our resources out.”