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January 24: Photos and commentary from Iraq's "Million person protest"


Photos by KAREEM BOTANE text by MECRA

Protesters gathered in Baghdad on January 24 for what Muqtada al-Sadr and others called a million-person march to oppose the US role in Iraq. Many carried posters opposing the US role. "You will be expelled from our land whether you like it or not" and "the willing of free nations is stronger than America's aggression" were among the posters that were carried. Some read "to the families of American soldiers: Insist on the withdrawal of your sons from our country, or prepare their coffins." Another showed the White House and the word 'exit' with the demand "American troops should leave our countries." Many signs showed two hands placed in a "time out" and the term "hard revenge." It says "you arrived vertically but will leave horizontally."

Others carried signs saying "death to America" and "death to Israel." The flags of Israel and the US were placed on the ground for people to walk on. Up to a million participants gathered at Jadriyah and walked to Karrada south of the Green Zone. It was around six kilometers of protest. Estimates said that there were hundreds of thousands while participants said there were too many to count. Many came without political banners or flags, told to do so by organizers. The day before many PMU groups had slammed the Iraqi President Barham Salih for meeting US President Donald Trump. Now Salih released a statement saying "Iraqis insist on a state that is not fully violated, serving its people and expressing their independent national will." Salih has told the US not to use Iraq for a proxy conflict with Iran. He has insisted on this since December 2018 when Trump said the US might use Iraq to "watch Iran." He also met US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in September and reiterated the same.

However the tensions with Iran, rocket fire at US bases and the US decision to first launch airstrikes against Kataib Hezbollah targets in the wake of the killing of a US contractor on December 27, and the killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani and Kataib Hezbollah leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis on January 3, led Sadr and members of the PMU to call for the January 24 protests.

Sources on the ground confirmed that the Badr Organization played a central role in organizing today's protests in Baghdad. Through interviews we have learned that Saraya al-Salam, Saraya al-Khorasani and Badr played a major role. Badr did security with the National Secruity Council of the Iraqi army, and Badr played a major role throughout in supervising and coordination with Kataib Hezbollah as well and Khorasani. However political flags linked to Badr and other groups were generally absent from the massive protest on Karrada streets and down to Jadriyah.

However the Saraya al-Salam group has been very suspicious of providing further details from their office in Sadr city about how the march was organized. We saw many people from Karbala, Hilla, Diwaniyeh, and far away places from Baghdad. They came to Jadriyah and we have spoken to the coordinators. In a two our interview by MECRA we spoke to people linked to Sadr and others. The statement says that Iraqi security coordinated with Badr which is interesting because of the role of PMU.

Qais Khazali was rumored to have attended with Asaib Ahl al-Haq members but they did not bring flags or unit insignia because of requests for political or paramilitary groups to attend with flags, etc.

What MECRA sources saw included a large numbers of protesters, who could have numbered a million. Some women participated, and many men of all ages. Many English language posters slamming the US. People wore white shrouds in preparation for "martyrdom" in opposing the US. They say it is only a matter of time until the US leaves, and if not peacefully then through clashes. There were religious people and children who attended. Mostly it was a peaceful march, including some members of Sairoon, the largest party in Iraq which is led by Sadr. Overall there were not many political leaders present.

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