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 march called by Moqtada al-Sadr aims to pressure Washington to pull out its troops, but many anti-government protesters fear it could overshadow their separate, months-long demonstrations that have challenged Iran-backed Shi’ite groups’ grip on power.
Sadr opposes all foreign interference in Iraq but has recently aligned himself more closely with Iran, whose allies have dominated state institutions since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Throngs of marchers started gathering early on Friday at al-Hurriya Square in central Baghdad and near around the city’s main university, Reuters witnesses said. Marchers avoided Tahrir square, a symbol of mass protests against Iraq’s ruling elites.
“We want them all out – America, Israel, and the corrupt politicians in government,” said Raed Abu Zahra, a health ministry worker from the southern city of Samawa, who arrived by bus at night and stayed in Sadr City, a sprawling district of Baghdad controlled by the cleric’s followers.
“We support the protests in Tahrir as well, but understand why Sadr held this protest here so it doesn’t take attention from theirs,” he added.
Men and women marched waving the red, white and black national colors, and chanted slogans against the United States, which leads a military coalition against the Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.