From Iran, Sadr calls for 'million-man' march against US presence in Iraq

Following a meeting with infamous leaders of multiple Iraqi militia groups in Iran, senior cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on Tuesday called on protesters to hold a “million-man” march against the presence of US troops in Iraq, in an apparent bid to steer ongoing anti-government demonstrations.
author_image Kosar Nawzad

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Following a meeting with infamous leaders of multiple Iraqi militia groups in Iran, senior cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on Tuesday called on protesters to hold a “million-man” march against the presence of US troops in Iraq, in an apparent bid to steer ongoing anti-government demonstrations.

“The skies, lands, and sovereignty of Iraq are being violated by invading forces,” Sadr said in a statement posted on his official Twitter page. He called on the “soldiers of God and the nation” to hold “a million-man, peaceful, and united protest that condemns the American presence [in Iraq] and its violations.”

The statement came just a day after Sadr—a self-described nationalist who purports to be against any type of foreign intervention in Iraqi affairs—met with leaders of a number of Iran-backed militias in his office in the Iranian city of Qom.

Read More: Muqtada al-Sadr meets with Iraqi Shia groups in Iran to discuss US withdrawal: report

The gathering included senior figures in militia groups closely tied with Tehran such as Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada, Harakat Hizbollah al-Nujaba (HHN), and Saraya al-Salam, a group led by Sadr himself. According to an HHN spokesman, the main topic of discussion was the US troops' presence in Iraq.

Following Sadr’s call for an anti-US march, another Iran-aligned militia commander and former transportation minister, Hadi al-Amiri, welcomed such an event and “announced his support for the million-man protest called for by Mr. Sadr,” a statement from his office read.

Amiri is the commander of the Badr Organization, a leading group in the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), an umbrella grouping of mostly Iran-backed militias that were brought into the Iraqi security apparatus in 2014 to help in the fight against the Islamic State. Amiri is also the leader of the Fatih Coalition in the Iraqi legislature, while Sadr is the head of the Sairoon Alliance. Together, the two factions are the primary component of the two largest blocs in parliament. Recently, Sairoon and Fatih introduced and passed a resolution calling for the expulsion of foreign forces, including Americans, from Iraqi territory.

Kurdish representatives, and most Sunni Arab lawmakers, did not attend the special parliamentary session, called after an American drone killed the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, Qasim Soleimani and the leader of the Tehran-aligned Kata’ib Hizbollah PMF militia.

Meanwhile, the United States has said it does not plan to leave Iraq, despite rumors suggesting otherwise.

Read More: Pentagon chiefs: we have no plans to leave Iraq

On Jan. 7, US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, as well as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, told journalists that American forces were not leaving Iraq. This came after a letter, ostensibly from a senior US military officer to his Iraqi counterpart and circulated widely on social media, suggested that US forces were redeploying within Iraq in preparation for leaving the country altogether.

This comes against the backdrop of anti-government protests that began in October in many southern and central Iraqi cities. Demonstrations have condemned rampant graft throughout the nation’s institutions and have demanded the ouster of the entire ruling elite they see as unashamedly corrupt.

They have also called for an end to foreign, namely Iranian, intervention in Iraq’s internal affairs.

Since they began, demonstrators have not aligned themselves with any major political figure even as Sadr voiced his support for them, a move many protesters saw as an attempt to curry favor with the anti-establishment and grassroots movement.

Editing by John J. Catherine