BAGHDAD (Agencies): “Millions” have gathered in the Iraqi capital Baghdad to denounce US military presence in the country after the US assassinated Lt. Gen. Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was second-in-command of the Iraq’s PMU, in Baghdad earlier this month.
Since the early hours on Friday, tens of thousands of men, women and children of all ages convened in Baghdad’s Jadriyah neighborhood near the Baghdad University.
The protesters were seen carrying banners and chanting slogans calling for the expulsion of US forces.
“Get out, get out, occupier!” some shouted, while others chanted, “Yes to sovereignty!”
Iraq’s al-Ahd news network reported that Iraqis from “all of the country’s provinces” had gathered in the city.
Sayed Sadiq al-Hashemi, the director of the Iraqi Center for Studies, said that more than 2.5 million took part in the demonstrations.
The rally comes after Influential Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called on Iraqis to stage “a million-strong, peaceful, unified demonstration to condemn the American presence and its violations” last week.
On January 5, the Iraqi parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution calling for the expulsion of all US-led forces in the country two days after Washington assassinated Soleimani and Muhandis.
In a message delivered through a representative at Friday prayer in the holy city of Kerbala, Iraq’s top Shia cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani urged Iraqi political groups to do what is needed to the safeguard the country’s sovereignty.
He also called on Iraqi groups to stand united and far from any foreign influence in countering dangers which threaten the country.
Sistani, who delivered his message through a representative at Friday prayer in the holy city of Karbala, reiterated calls to foreign powers to respect Iraq’s sovereignty.
Sadr also issued a statement on Friday calling for the shutting of US bases and the closure of Iraqi airspace for US warplanes and surveillance aircraft.
He warned that US presence in the country will be dealt with as an occupying force if Washington does not agree with Iraqi demands to withdraw for the country.
Also speaking on Thursday ahead of the planned rallies, Sadr called on Iraqis to mobilize and defend the country’s independence and sovereignty.
“Oh women, men and youth of the country, the time is now upon us to defend the country, its sovereignty and dependence,” Sadr said in a tweet.
“Spread the word of an independent future Iraq that will be ruled by the righteous; an Iraq which will not know of corruption nor aggression” he added, calling on Iraqis to expel the “tyrants”.
Various Iraqi resistance groups affiliated with the country’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) have also backed the anti-American rally.
Speaking to the Lebanese al-Mayadeen television channel, Jaafar al-Husseini, a spokesman for the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU)-affiliated Kata’ib Hezbollah resistance group, said that “other means” will be used against the Americans if they do not leave Iraq.
He added that American presence has led to corruption and instability in the country.
In an interview with Iran’s Tasnim News Agency, Firas al-Yasser, member of the political bureau of the Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba movement, also said that today’s rallies marked “a new chapter” in the country’s relations with the US.
He added that Iraqi resistance groups support the stance of the country’s clerical leadership, which does not tolerate Washington’s “theory of dependence and humiliation” against Iraq.
“We believe we have reached the zero hour in facing off with the US,” he said.
Yasser added that Iran’s missile attack on the Ain al-Assad base in the western Iraqi province of Anbar earlier this month was a “prelude” to the expulsion of US forces from the country.
Qais al-Khazali, leader of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, which is part of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), has described Friday’s rallies as a “second revolution” a century after the Great Iraqi Revolution of 1920.
Iraqis staged mass demonstrations against British forces that had occupied Iraq at the time.