Million Man March: Thousands protest US military presence in Iraq
The march aims to pressure Washington to pull out its troops from Iraq. There are roughly 5,000 US troops in the country.
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis marched through Baghdad on Friday calling for US troops to leave the country after prominent Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called for a “Million Man March”.
The demonstrations come following the US killing of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and the Iran-backed Iraqi militia chief, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, in Baghdad on January 3.
The march aims to pressure Washington to pull out its troops, but many anti-government protesters fear it could overshadow their separate, months-long rallies that have challenged Iran-backed Shia groups' grip on power.
There are roughly 5,000 US troops in Iraq. Iraq's Parliament had voted to expel the US military from the country following the attack on the Iranian general, but the Trump administration said it does not intend to pull its troops out.
On Friday, families and children held aloft signs that read "no, no to America" and "no, no to occupation" amid a sea of Iraqi flags. A heavy security presence surrounded the path of the march, as well as the Green Zone which houses the US Embassy.
Cleric Al-Sadr opposes all foreign interference in Iraq but has recently aligned himself more closely with Iran, whose allies have dominated state institutions since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Throngs of marchers started gathering early on Friday at al-Hurriya Square in central Baghdad and near around the city's main university, Reuters reported.
Marchers avoided Tahrir square, symbol of mass protests against Iraq's ruling elites.
Men and women marched waving the red, white and black national colours, and chanted slogans against the US, which leads a military coalition against the Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.
"Do not cross this barrier"
Some were wearing symbolic white robes indicating they're willing to die for their country while others sat looking out over the square from half finished buildings, holding signs reading "No, no, America, no, no, Israel, no, no, colonialists".
Marchers were protected by Sadr's Saraya al-Salam brigades and Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces -- an umbrella grouping of Iran-backed Shia militias, witnesses said.
It is unclear if the march will end up at the gates of the US Embassy -- the seat of US power in Iraq and the scene of violent clashes last month when militia supporters tried to storm the compound.
The killing of Soleimani in Baghdad has raised the spectre of more civil strife in a country torn by years of sectarian conflict.
Soleimani had contributed to terror plots “as far away as New Delhi and London”, US President Donald Trump had claimed earlier, adding that his “reign of terror” was now over.
The US leader called Soleimani “a sick monster” and “the number one terrorist anywhere in the world”.