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'No to America, no to Iran': Thousands protest against foreign influence across Iraq

Demonstrators revive months-long protest against government, adding criticism of both US and Iran
Thousands of Iraqis rally across country, reviving months-long protest movement against government and also directing their anger at US and Iran (AFP)
By in
Baghdad

Huge crowds of protesters hit the streets of several Iraqi provinces on Friday, rallying against the government and rejecting both US and Iranian presences in the country.

Many were met by violence and arrest by paramilitary and security forces. Two journalists were killed in the southern city of Basra.

Calls for a million-man march have spread through Iraqi social media in recent days, after a week when Iraq became a battleground for violent confrontations between Tehran and Washington.

'No to America and no to Iran, Sunnis and Shias are brothers'

- Anti-government protesters in Babil province

Last Friday, a US drone strike in Baghdad killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and the head of the Iraqi Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitary Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, stoking tensions and destabilising Iraq.

In response, Iran fired a salvo of missiles at two bases in Iraq that host US troops, reportedly leaving no casualties but fraying nerves nonetheless.

"No to America and no to Iran, Sunnis and Shias are brothers," anti-government protesters in Babil province chanted.

Iraq's top Shia authority Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani echoed the public mood on Friday, calling in his weekly sermon for protection of Iraqi sovereignty and keeping the country out of regional and international conflicts.

In Basra, the main streets thronged with people, as demonstrators gathered in Umm al-Broom Square demanding their fundamental rights.

They were reportedly met by gunmen, who chased protesters through the backstreets, seizing several of them.

An eyewitness, who wished to remain anonymous for security reasons, said: "The 'shock troops' arrested about 40 protesters, then the peaceful demonstrators changed their direction towards the police headquarters and circled it, demanding the release of those who were arrested."

Journalists killed

Sources told Middle East Eye that gunmen opened fire on a car carrying Dijlah TV reporter Ahmed Abdul Samad and his camera operator, Safaa Ghali.

Basrans chanted "In our souls, in our blood, we will be for you Iraq," while the people in Nasiriyah, a restive city about 200km away, were chanting "Neither America nor Iran, our revolution is a young revolution."

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"I am protesting today to demand the most important thing we are all looking for - that the new PM to be chosen from the streets and be appointed by the people," said Ali Hassan, a 24-year-old.

Demonstrations have rocked Iraq since 1 October, when protesters flooded streets and squares in response to widespread corruption, poor infrastructure and Iran's interventions in Iraq's internal issues.

Last weekend, the Iraqi parliament voted to expel US forces from the country. Though the vote was non-binding, caretaker Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has intimated that he will seek to carry out the parliament's will. In response, US President Donald Trump has threatened sanctions.

Sarkawt Shamsulddin, a member of the Future bloc in parliament, told Middle East Eye that the finance and foreign ministries should immediately take action to prevent US sanctions.

"We also need to find alternatives for energy imports from Iran. Also, Iraq needs to tackle the rise of uncontrolled militias who put Iraq's interests in harm's way," Shamsulddin said.

"If it does not do anything, today's protests will at least revive the movement on the street. It will also boost the chances of a new Iraqi government being formed soon."