By Nawar Alrikabi
Baghdad, Jan 3 (efe-epa).- Thousands of supporters of the Iraqi militia group the Popular Mobilization Forces on Sunday took to the streets to mark the first anniversary of the killing of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani by US forces in Iraq.
The rally, at central Baghdad’s iconic Tahrir square, also called for the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country.
It was organised by the PMF, a pro-government militia that saw its deputy commander Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes killed alongside Soleimani last year in a US targeted drone strike near Baghdad airport on 3 January.
The protesters demanded the implementation of a resolution approved by Parliament a year ago to expel foreign troops as the Iraqi sovereignty was “violated” by what Baghdad deemed as a “unilateral” attack.
Even though the resolution was not implemented, US President Donald Trump has cut the number of US troops deployed in Iraq, as part of the anti-Islamic State international coalition, by nearly half during 2020.
At Tahrir square, a large stage was set up beside the Freedom Monument from which a large banner was hanged featuring photos of the two “martyrs”.
During the event, Hadi al-Ameri, the leader of al-Fath, one of the parties represented in Parliament, said the Iraqi authorities should “work to expel the American occupier, and full national sovereignty must be achieved”.
A protester, who refused to identify himself, told Efe that his demand is to “expel the occupier, who is a brutal usurper.”
He also criticized the government for meeting the demands of the US instead of prioritizing Iraqi interests.
Another protester, who also wanted to remain anonymous, told Efe that the large number of demonstrators sends a clear message that “Iraq is a sovereign country” and will respond to the US.
Roads and access points to Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, which houses government buildings and embassies, were cut off by the Iraqi authorities.
The green zone has been repeatedly attacked with missiles targeting the US embassy and nearby facilities. Washington has blamed the Iran-financed Kataib Hizbullah, which is part of the Popular Mobilization, for those attacks.
Kataib Hizbullah on Sunday issued a statement calling for massive protests to mark death anniversaries of Soleimani and al-Mohandes, promising that its followers “are not going to break into the embassy of ‘evil’ “-as they describe the United States- or to” overthrow the government, because there is still time”.
The US has labelled the group a terror organization that it blames for the killing of US citizens and carrying out attacks against its interests in Iraq. EFE-EPA