Thousands of Iraqis rallied across the country on Friday, reviving a months-long protest movement against the government and adding denunciations of both the U.S. and Iran to their chants.
“Screw Iran! Screw America!” the demonstrators cried out in the iconic Tahir square, still lined with tents and stalls set up three months ago.
The anti-regime demonstrations had been overshadowed recently by spiraling tensions between Washington and Tehran, which led each country to carry out strikes against the other’s assets in Iraq over the last week.
US Rejects to Request to Remove Troops
As demonstrators flooded the streets, The United States on Friday rejected a request by Iraq’s prime minister to send a delegation to start preparations to pull out its 5,200 troops in the country.
Iraqi leaders were infuriated by a U.S. drone strike at Baghdad’s airport that killed Iran’s most prominent general and parliament voted Sunday to rescind an invitation to foreign troops.
“At this time, any delegation sent to Iraq would be dedicated to discussing how to best recommit to our strategic partnership – not to discuss troop withdrawal, but our right, appropriate force posture in the Middle East,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.
“No to Iran, no to America” say signs and chants in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square as crowds start to swell. Protesters say they are fed up of their country being someone else’s battlefield. “We deserve to live in peace,” says 21 year old Zahraa. pic.twitter.com/9lqdvunAwE
— Louisa Loveluck (@leloveluck) January 10, 2020
The United States invaded Iraq in 2003 to topple Saddam Hussein‘s government. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, mostly civilians, were killed in ensuing bloodshed that destabilized the region.
After a years-long occupation, former President Barack Obama sought to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011, but thousands more were redeployed in 2014 after the rise of ISIS.
Under President Donald Trump, Iraq has increasingly become a proxy battleground between the U.S. and Iran, which has also fought the Islamic State group.
Fearing their movement would be eclipsed by war, Iraqi activists posted calls on social media in recent days for a mass protest on Friday, which marked the inverse date, 10/1, of the first rallies on October 1, or 1/10.
Iraqis turned out across the country, with hundreds streaming into the capital’s Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the anti-regime movement, AFP journalists reported.
“By relaunching the protests, we’re showing our commitment to the demands of the October revolution: that our leaders stop monopolizing our country’s resources,” said Haydar Kazem, protesting in Nasiriyah.
Iraq is OPEC’s second-largest crude producer, but one in five people live in poverty and unemployment is rife among youth, according to the World Bank.
#Iraq|i's currently protesting in Tahrir Square, #Baghdad, the protests are taking place against #Iran|ian proxies and the #Iraqi government which are reportedly involved in corruption and collusion with #Tehran. pic.twitter.com/mwBlXXXP4M
— Aurora Intel (@AuroraIntel) January 10, 2020
Transparency International ranks Iraq the 12th most corrupt country in the world.
Outraged by government graft and inequality, Iraqis launched an anti-regime protest movement in October that saw unprecedented numbers hit the streets.
But the rallies were met with violence, with nearly 460 people killed and more than 25,000 wounded since they began.
The protests began to slip out of the media spotlight in late December after a U.S. contractor was killed in a rocket attack on a northern Iraqi military base where American and other international troops are stationed.
The U.S. blamed a hardline group in the Hashed al-Shaabi, a military network incorporated into the Iraqi state, and launched an airstrike that killed 25 Hashed fighters.
Supporters of the group then besieged the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and days later, the U.S. killed a top Iranian commander and the Hashed’s deputy chief in a drone strike outside the Baghdad airport.
In retaliation, Iran launched ballistic missiles on Iraqi bases where U.S. and coalition forces are stationed.
The rallies persisted throughout the developments, but shifted to include calls for Iraq to be spared any conflict between U.S. and Iran.
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