A national march against the presence of United States forces, organized by a populist Shiite cleric and armed groups with ties to Iran, drew a crowd estimated at 200,000 to 250,000.
By Alissa J. Rubin and Falih Hassan
Jan. 24, 2020
Updated 11:06 a.m. ET
BAGHDAD — Throngs of Iraqis gathered on the streets of the capital, Baghdad, in the early hours of Friday to protest the United States military presence in the country at the behest of a leading populist cleric and of armed forces with ties to Iran.
The demonstration comes three weeks after the United States launched a drone strike in capital that killed the Iranian commander Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani and a prominent member of the Iraqi government, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, with close ties to the Popular Mobilization Forces, some of whom are close to Iran.
Days later, at the urging of the Iraqi prime minister, the Parliament endorsed a measure demanding the expulsion of foreign forces from Iraq, which in the minds of most Iraqis meant American troops. The protest on Friday was the first designed specifically to denounce the American presence in Iraq since the parliamentary measure.
Organizers had hoped for a larger turnout than anything in recent years, but estimates by the Iraqi Security forces as the march wound down suggested they might be disappointed. Counts of aerial views of the marchers put the numbers at around 200,000 to 250,000.
“Participating in this demonstration is like voting in a referendum on the decision of the Iraqi Parliament” to expel American forces, said Sheikh Satar al-Shimmari, from Diyala Province, who was organizing busloads of people to attend.