The Slatest

Hundreds of Thousands of Iraqis Turn Out to Protest U.S. Military Presence

Iraqi demonstrators wave the national flag during an anti-government rally in the southern city of Basra.
Protests over the weekend have left at least 12 dead and 230 injured. HUSSEIN FALEH/AFP via Getty Images

Massive protests have been raging in Iraq against the ruling elite and U.S. military intervention over the last three days, leaving at least 12 people dead and 230 others injured. Hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated in Baghdad on Friday in a “Million Man March” at the behest of the populist Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Cities in the southern region of the country, including Nassiriya and Basra, also saw tumultuous protests. Iraqi security forces in several cities cracked down on the marchers on Saturday and attempted to end the sit-ins that have attracted thousands of students. Though al-Sadr has now disavowed the marches in an attempt to avoid “internal strife,” hundreds of people nevertheless turned out again on Sunday, which also resulted in clashes with security forces.

Protests have been engulfing Iraq since October, resulting in at least 600 deaths and the resignation of Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi in November. The protests had largely subsided over the last few weeks but came roaring back this weekend. While they were originally motivated by government corruption and a lack of public services and job opportunities, demonstrators widened their focus to include the U.S. military presence in Iraq after an American drone strike killed Iranian general Qassem Soleimani near Baghdad in January.

Al-Sadr, whose political bloc won the most seats in the country’s 2018 parliamentary elections, argued that the strike was a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and called for “a million-strong, peaceful, unified demonstration to condemn the American presence and its violations.” The Iraqi parliament voted to expel the approximately 5,000 U.S. troops stationed in the country days after Soleimani’s death, but the Trump administration has declined to comply with the directive.

According to reports on the ground, protestors have been chanting “No, no America,” waving Iraqi flags, and brandishing signs with slogans like, “Death to America. Death to Israel.” Security forces have been using teargas and live bullets in an attempt to squash the movement, while citizens have been responding with stones and petrol bombs. Protestors in Nassiriya managed to take control of the city’s main bridges and set fire to security vehicles. Medical workers have been trying to assist the injured, though ambulances have been unable to reach protest sites.

Adding to the chaos of the protests, five katyusha rockets landed on a river bank near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone on Sunday, according to the U.S. Joint Operations Command. It was not immediately clear who shot the rockets, though two similar attacks have already occurred this month.