BAGHDAD (AP) — Chanting anti-American slogans, hundreds of people rallied in the Iraqi capital Saturday to mark the anniversary of the killing of a powerful Iranian general and a top Iraqi militia leader in a U.S. drone strike.
The crowd called for the expulsion of remaining American forces from Iraq during the demonstration commemorating the airstrike at Baghdad airport. The strike killed Gen. Qassim Soleimani, who was the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of Iran-backed militias in Iraq known as the Popular Mobilization Forces.
“We will not let you stay after today on in the land of the martyrs,” some of the placards read. American and Israeli flags were strewn on the ground, with people trampling on them.
The killing of Soleimani and al-Muhandis at Baghdad’s airport pushed Iran and the United States perilously close to all-out conflict and sparked outrage in Iraq, leading parliament to pass a non-binding resolution days later calling for the expulsion of all foreign troops from Iraq.
The U.S.-led coalition formally ended it’s combat mission supporting Iraqi forces in the ongoing fight against the Islamic State group at the end of December. Some 2,500 troops will remain for the foreseeable future, however, to continue supporting Iraqi forces in an advisory role. Some militia leaders have insisted on the departure of all U.S. troops.
“We will not accept anything less than full withdrawal as revenge for the blood of our martyrs,” said Hadi al-Ameri, head of an Iran-aligned coalition.
Supporters of Iran-aligned Shiite factions were bused in from various Iraqi provinces to the rally in Jadriyah, near the headquarters of the powerful militias.