Robert HARNEIS -TDO- (FRANCE)- The "Million Man March" convened by Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr exceeded expectations.

It is claimed up to four million people demanded the departure of U.S. troops from Iraq with a march in Baghdad, which was convened by cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr three weeks after the murder of Iran's General Qasem Soleimani with nine Iraqi officers.

Whatever the true figure, Baghdad streets were filled with an endless column of people who paraded to express their repudiation of the U.S. military presence.

Banners showed slogans such as "No, No, to the U.S. and Yes to Iraqi sovereignty," "The willingness of free nations is stronger than the U.S. aggression," and "Global terrorism is made in the U.S."While some protesters burned images of Donald Trump, others marched raising photos of the U.S. president's face crossed out with a red "X".

Initially, the U.S. government justified the presence of its troops in Iraq by arguing the fight against the Islamic State, which managed to control large areas of Iraqi territory in 2014. Since the defeat of this radical group in 2017, however, those troops have not been removed from the country.

As a result of the events unleashed by Jan. 3 bombings, in which Iran's General Qassem Soleimani was killed, the Iraqi parliament called for the departure of foreign troops.

"If the U.S. meets these demands, then it is not an aggressor country," Al-Sadr said and added that the U.S. will become a "hostile country" if it violates the conditions specified for its departure.

The highest Shiite religious authority in Iraq, Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, also reaffirmed today "the need to respect the sovereignty of Iraq, the independence of its political decision, and its territorial unity."

The protesters were seen carrying banners and chanting slogans calling for the expulsion of US forces. “Get out, get out, occupier!” some shouted, while others chanted, “Yes to sovereignty!”

The massive rally came after influential cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called on Iraqis to stage “a million-strong, peaceful, unified demonstration to condemn the American presence and its violations”.

Sadr issued a statement calling for US bases to be shut down and Iraqi airspace closed to US warplanes and surveillance aircraft.He warned that US presence in the country will be dealt with as an occupying force if Washington does not agree with Iraqi demands to withdraw for the country.

In a message delivered through a representative at Friday prayer in the holy city of Karbala, top cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani also urged Iraqi political groups to do what is needed to safeguard the country’s sovereignty.He called on Iraqi groups to stand united, far from any foreign influence in countering the dangers which threaten the country.

On Thursday ahead of the planned rallies, Sadr called on Iraqis to mobilize and defend the country’s independence and sovereignty.“Oh women, men and youth of the country, the time is now upon us to defend the country, its sovereignty and dependence,” Sadr said in a tweet.

“Spread the word of an independent future Iraq that will be ruled by the righteous; an Iraq which will not know of corruption nor aggression” he added, calling on Iraqis to expel the “tyrants”.Various Iraqi resistance groups affiliated with the country’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) have also backed the anti-American rally.

Iraq's President Barham Salih posted a photo of Friday's march on social media and wrote that Iraqis deserved a "fully sovereign state that serves its people."

Iraqis suspect the United States of planning to create a puppet Sunni state in the country, from whence they could put pressure on Turkey, Syria, Iran and the rest of Iraq. They also fear that any conflict between Iran and the US would inevitably be fought out in Iraq with devastating consequences for the people.

The US has reacted to the pressure by officially ignoring it and at the same time threatening to murder Soleimani’s successor at the head of the Iranian Republican Guards as well, if US personnel are attacked, which is increasingly likely regardless of what the Iranians want. The US have also threatened sanctions and to block Iraqi funds at the Fed – some 30 billion dollars - if they are ordered to leave.

President Trump is the victim of competing pressures. His voter base wants an end to wars in the Middle East but equally they do not want him to appear weak. The break-in to the US embassy compound by an Iraqi mob after the US killed 75 Iraqi military personnel would appear to have raised the spectre of a repetition of the occupation of the US embassy in Teheran in 1979, that led to the failure of President Carter’s re-election bid. It was this that triggered the assassination, although the Israelis and their Neo-con allies in the US have been pushing for some such aggressive action against Iran for some time.

Cynics might therefore wonder whether the surprisingly easy break-in was not self-inflicted to get Trump to act. Certainly grafitti on the embassy walls naming Soleimani as an inspiration for the break-in were very convenient for anyone wishing to encourage his assassination.

The success of the march would seem to indicate that the Iraqis – and in the background the Iranians - have decided, initially at any rate, the way to force the US out is by passive resistance.

However Washington has also to reckon with the ‘new fact’ that the Iranians have shown that they are capable of accurately and effectively attacking US bases as demonstrated by the bombardment with missiles of the Ayn al-Asad and Erbil airbases. Initially President Trump claimed that there were no casualties but it has since been acknowledged that 34 US servicemen and women suffered from concussion, some severely. Videos posted on line by US service men clearly show the devastation caused the by the attacks.

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