İrem UZUN -TDO- Thousands of people have taken to the streets in Iraq's capital, Baghdad, after Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr called for a "million-strong" march to demand the withdrawal of US troops from the country, putting the protest-hit city on edge. The demonstration on Friday added an extra layer to the months-old protest movement that has gripped the capital and the Shia- majority south since October, demanding a government overhaul, early elections and more accountability.
Families and children held aloft signs that read "no, no to America" and "no, no to occupation" amid a sea of Iraqi flags. A heavy security presence surrounded the path of the march, as well as the Green Zone which houses the US embassy. The Green Zone has been the site of multiple rocket attacks that have increased in frequency since a U.S. attack in Baghdad killed Iran's most powerful military general, Qasem Soleimani, and the Iran-backed Iraqi commander, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
A representative of Sadr took to the stage at the protest site and read out a statement by the influential Shia cleric and populist politician. It called for all foreign forces to leave Iraq, the cancellation of Iraq's security agreements with the US, the closure of Iraqi airspace to American military and surveillance aircraft and for the U.S. president, Donald Trump, not to be "arrogant" when addressing Iraqi officials.
Washington has yet to open talks with Baghdad on a troop pullout. But the U.S. special envoy for Syria and the coalition against the "Islamic State" (IS) terror group, James Jeffrey, said operations against the jihad is had been put on hold after the drone strike.