Sat. Jan 22nd, 2022

Thousands of people gathered in the Iraqi capital to celebrate the second anniversary of the assassination of a reverent Iranian commander and his Iraqi lieutenant in a drone strike by the United States.

The marchers chanted “Death to America” ​​and filled a Baghdad square to honor Iran’s General Qassem Soleimani, who headed the Quds Force, the foreign operating arm of the elite Revolutionary Guard, until his death on January 3, 2020.

“American terrorism must end”, said one sign at the rally by supporters of the pro-Iranian Hashed, also known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a former paramilitary alliance integrated into Iraq’s state security apparatus.

“We will not allow you to stay in the land of the martyrs after today,” read another poster. American and Israeli flags were scattered on the ground, with people trampling it.

Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Abdelwahed said the protesters were using the rally as an opportunity to reiterate their demands for the full withdrawal of US and foreign troops from Iraq.

“Thousands of protesters, members of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, sang against the US and the presence of US troops in Iraq,” he said from Baghdad.

“They blame the [Iraqi] government for what they think is with US forces, ”he continued,“ and that there has been no clarity or any transparency in the investigation over the past two years since the assassinations of General Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. ”

Supporters of Shiite factions aligned with Iran were transported from several Iraqi provinces to the rally in Jadriyah, near the headquarters of the powerful armed groups.

Former US President Donald Trump has ordered the attack that killed Soleimani near Baghdad’s airport along with his Iraqi lieutenant, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, Hashed’s deputy.

Trump then said the assassination came in response to a spate of attacks on US interests in Iraq.

The assassination of Soleimani – the architect of Iran’s Middle East military strategy – and al-Muhandis sent shock waves across the region, sparking fears of a direct military confrontation between decades-old enemies of Washington and Tehran.

Days later, Iraq’s parliament adopted a non-binding resolution calling for the expulsion of all foreign troops from Iraq.

Iran, which has significant influence in neighboring Iraq, has warned it will avenge Soleimani’s death.

Five days after the assassination, Iran fired missiles at an air base in Iraq that houses US troops and another near Erbil in the north.

Since then, dozens of rockets and roadside bombs have targeted Western security, military and diplomatic sites across Iraq.

Iraqi and Western officials blamed hardline pro-Iranian factions for the attacks, which have never been claimed by any group.

In February last year, the US exported an air strike against Kataeb Hezbollah, an Iraqi paramilitary force backed by Iran stationed along the Iraqi-Syrian border, following rocket attacks on its Baghdad embassy and a U.S. military contracting firm north of the capital.

Hashed has repeatedly called for the withdrawal of US troops deployed in Iraq as part of a multinational coalition fighting the ISIL (ISIS) group.

Senior Hashed official Faleh al-Fayyad reiterated the claim on Saturday, saying the killings of Soleimani and al-Muhandis were “a crime against Iraqi sovereignty”.

In December, Iraq announced the end of the “combat mission” there from the US-led coalition against ISIL. But some 2,500 U.S. troops and 1,000 coalition troops will continue to be deployed in Iraq to provide training, advice and assistance to national forces.

“We will accept nothing less than full withdrawal as revenge for the blood of our martyrs,” said Hadi al-Ameri, head of an Iran-affiliated coalition.

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