ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Thousands of Iraqis took to the streets in several cities on Sunday following a call by influential Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to protest US-led airstrikes on Syria.
Demonstrations took place in Baghdad, Najaf, and Basra.
“Stop destroying Syria as you destroyed our country,” shouted protesters in Baghdad's Tahrir Square, in reference to the 2003 US operation in Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s authoritarian regime.
“No to America, no to the bombardment of Syria,” they chanted while raising Syria’s national flag.
In Baghdad, crowds set fire to US flags as they chanted against military action taken by the US, France, and the UK.
Sadr, whose militia forces fought US troops in the aftermath of the 2003 war in Iraq, joined protesters in Najaf city, where the cleric lives.
Both Sunni and Shia Arabs in Iraq have expressed animosity and anger toward the US over the past decades. The Shia community makes up the majority of Iraq’s population and is mostly aligned with Iran. Sunni Arabs, who are a minority despite ruling Iraq for a century, feel they were unjustly unseated by the US in 2003 and as a result, marginalized from the ruling class.
Almost a decade later, US troops withdrew from Iraq in 2011. They returned to the country in 2014 to help Iraqi forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga defeat the Islamic State (IS).
The US, who is leading the Global Coalition against IS, has been an essential backer of Iraqi forces in their efforts to eliminate the jihadist group and eventually declare victory over IS in Dec. 2017.
The Iraqi Federal Government on Saturday warned that US-led airstrikes on Syria were a “very dangerous” development that could push a resurgence of jihadist groups in the region.
Editing by Nadia Riva