As thousands of Iraqis headed to an upscale Baghdad neighbourhood, heeding influential Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s calls to participate in a million-man march, they had to contend with road closures and a heavier than usual security presence.
Sadr, head of Sairoon, the largest coalition bloc in parliament, has capitalised on rising regional tensions, which soared after the United States assassinated Iranian military general Qassem Soleimani on Iraqi soil.
The January 3 US military drone strike also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an Iraqi commander of the pro-Iranian Hashd al-Shabi militias (also called the Popular Mobilisation Forces or PMF).
As calls for an end to interference grew louder, the Iraqi parliament on January 5 backed a nonbinding resolution for all foreign troops – including 5,200 US soldiers – to leave the country.
Those calls were renewed at Friday’s rally at Jadriya, a neighbourhood where politicians live and work.
“Today’s protest is a referendum called for by the Iraqi people who consider the presence of US forces within the country a danger to them and to the region,” civil servant Asad al-Hashemi told Al Jazeera.
“The US is the reason for the corruption and all of our misfortunes.”
He said the US presence stokes dissent and increases the likelihood of people “acting out against it on our terrain, thus turning Iraq into an ongoing battlefield for competing geopolitical interests.
“We want to reclaim our sovereignty back.”