Thousands of people gathered in the Iraqi capital to mark the second anniversary of the murder of a revered Iranian commander and his Iraqi lieutenant in a drone attack by the United States.
Chanting “Death to America,” protesters filled a Baghdad square to honor Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, who led the Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of the elite Revolutionary Guards, until his death. died January 3, 2020.
“American terrorism must stop,” read a sign at the rally of supporters of pro-Iranian Hashed, also known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a former paramilitary alliance that was integrated into the Iraqi state security apparatus.
“We will not let you stay after today in the land of the martyrs,” said another sign. American and Israeli flags littered the ground, people trampling on them.
Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Abdelwahed said the protesters were using the rally to reiterate their demands for a total withdrawal of US and foreign troops from Iraq.
“Thousands of demonstrators, members of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces chanted against the United States and the presence of American troops in Iraq,” he said, speaking from Baghdad.
“They accuse the [Iraqi] government for what they see as collaboration with US forces, “he continued,” and that there has been no clarity or transparency in the investigation in the past two years since the murder of General Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. “
Supporters of Iran-aligned Shia factions were transported by bus from various Iraqi provinces to the rally in Jadriyah, near the headquarters of powerful armed groups.
Former US President Donald Trump ordered the attack that killed Soleimani near Baghdad airport with his Iraqi lieutenant, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, Hashed’s deputy.
Trump said at the time that the assassination came in response to a wave of attacks on US interests in Iraq.
The murder of Soleimani – the architect of Iran’s military strategy in the Middle East – and al-Muhandis sent shockwaves throughout the region and raised fears of a direct military confrontation between decades-old enemies Washington and Tehran.
Days later, the Iraqi parliament passed a non-binding resolution calling for the expulsion of all foreign troops from Iraq.
Iran, which wields considerable influence in neighboring Iraq, has warned it will avenge Soleimani’s death.
Five days after the murder, Iran fired missiles at an air base in Iraq housing US troops and another near Erbil in the north.
Since then, dozens of rockets and roadside bombs have targeted Western security, military and diplomatic sites across Iraq.
Iraqi and Western officials blamed hardline pro-Iran factions for the attacks, which were never claimed by any group.
In February last year, the United States carried out an airstrike against Kataeb Hezbollah, an Iraqi paramilitary force backed by Iran and stationed along the Iraqi-Syrian border, following rocket attacks against its embassy in Baghdad and an American military company north of the capital.
Hashed has repeatedly called for the withdrawal of US troops deployed in Iraq as part of a multinational coalition fighting the ISIL Group (ISIS).
Senior Hashed official Faleh al-Fayyad reiterated his demand on Saturday, saying the killing of Soleimani and al-Muhandis was “a crime against Iraqi sovereignty.”
In December, Iraq announced the end of the US-led coalition “combat mission” against ISIL. But approximately 2,500 US troops and 1,000 coalition troops will remain deployed in Iraq to provide training, advice and assistance to national forces.
“We will not accept anything less than a total withdrawal as revenge for the blood of our martyrs,” said Hadi al-Ameri, leader of an Iran-aligned coalition.