The capital city of Baghdad was rocked by protests on Friday, as an estimated 200,000 demonstrators marched for the ouster of American troops from the country in al-Hurriyah Square near the main university, as anti-Iraqi government protesters maintained their vigil in Tahrir Square. The two groups of demonstrators were far away from each other.
The protest demanding the pullout of all American troops was organized by populist Shia militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr. His followers were bused in from Shia strongholds of Najaf and southern Iraq to the capital carrying signs in English to make their point to the American forces and Western media, where they were joined by large numbers of al-Sadr followers from the Baghdad slums.
At Tahrir Square, protests have been ongoing against Iranian influence over the country's government, which is widely seen as corrupt and too closely aligned with Tehran. The anti-government protests, which temporarily died down following the US assassination of IRGC Quds Brigade commander Qassem Soleimani, resumed recently.
The Trump Administration is adamant that US forces will not leave Iraq, citing the recent resurgence of ISIS as the reason.
The two protests provide a snapshot of the turmoil inside Iraq and the impact on the country of the undeclared war between the United States and Iran. The Iraq parliament unanimously passed a non-binding referendum for all foreign troops to leave the country earlier this year days after the Soleimani assassination at Baghdad Airport. President Trump has threatened to impose harsh sanctions on Iraq if the American forces are expelled. Iraq's oil revenues are deposited in dollars in accounts at the Federal Reserve and are shipped to Iraq as the government requires the funds.
Departure of US forces from Iraq will be welcomed by many in the United States but it will do little to improve the complex nature of the ethno-religious problem
that unleashes these protests and keeps the country in a hapless state. What is unfortunate, and deadly, is the callousness of Arab ( Sunni) and Iranian (Shi’a) leaders of the region to use Iraq as pawn. It is not even geopolitics, it is petty
politics for ethno-religious control.
All that is true but this situation is not something that the US can solve or resolve.