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Iraqis protest, seek ouster of U.S. troops

Supporters of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr protest against what they say is U.S. presence and violations in Iraq, during a demonstration in Baghdad, Iraq on January 24, 2020.

Supporters of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr protest against what they say is U.S. presence and violations in Iraq, during a demonstration in Baghdad, Iraq on January 24, 2020.   | Photo Credit: REUTERS

Thousands of men, women and children massed under grey skies in the Jadiriyah district of east Baghdad, chanting “Get out, get out, occupier!”

Thousands of supporters of populist Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr gathered in Baghdad on Friday for a rally to demand the ouster of U.S. troops, putting the protest-hit capital on edge.

The march rattled the separate, months-old protest movement that has gripped the capital and Shiite-majority south since October, demanding a government overhaul, early elections and more accountability.

Thousands of men, women and children massed under grey skies in the Jadiriyah district of east Baghdad, chanting “Get out, get out, occupier!”

Some waved signs in Arabic and English reading “Death to America” and one protester carried a cardboard cut-out of the U.S. President Donald Trump on the gallows.

A representative of Sadr took to the stage at the protest site and read out a statement by the influential Shiite cleric and populist politician.

It called for all foreign forces to leave Iraq, the cancellation of Iraq’s security agreements with the United States, the closure of Iraqi airspace to the U.S. military and surveillance aircraft and for Trump not to be “arrogant” when addressing Iraqi officials.

“If all this is implemented, we will deal with it as a non-occupying country – otherwise it will be considered a country hostile to Iraq,” the statement said.

About two hours into the rally, protesters began peeling away from the square but thousands lingered.

America’s military presence has been a hot-button issue in Iraq since a U.S. strike killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and a top Iraqi commander outside Baghdad airport on January 3.

Around 5,200 U.S. troops are in Iraq to lead a global coalition in fighting the Islamic State group, but Iraq said the strike against Soleimani violated that mandate.

Joint US-Iraqi operations were paused and outraged parliamentarians voted for all foreign forces to leave.

Baghdad said it wanted to discuss a timeline for departure but US special envoy for the anti-IS coalition, James Jeffrey, said Thursday there was no “real engagement”.

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Printable version | Feb 22, 2020 10:12:29 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/iraqis-protest-seek-ouster-of-us-troops/article30646565.ece

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