Watch Iraqi Protesters Trample, Burn US and Israeli Flags Ahead of Anniversary of Soleimani’s Death
11:00 GMT 02.01.2022 (Updated: 11:06 GMT 02.01.2022)
The first several days of the New Year mark two important milestones in Iraq: the passing of the 31 December deadline for the end of the US combat mission in the country, and the second anniversary of the assassination of Iranian anti-terror commander Qasem Soleimani – who was killed in a US drone strike at Baghdad airport on 3 January 2020.
Several thousand demonstrators rallied in the Iraqi capital on Saturday, chanting anti-American slogans, trampling and burning US and Israeli flags, and demanding an end to the US military presence in the country.
“We will not let you stay after today in the land of the martyrs,” some of the placards, which featured portraits of slain Revolutionary Guard Quds Force general Qasem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis – the Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) militia commander killed alongside Soleimani in January 2020, read.
The rally was organised by Iraq’s powerful Shiite political factions, which established the PMF – a 124,000 militiamen-strong fighting force, in 2014 to fight Daesh (ISIS).* The PMF received training and organisational support from Soleimani and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard during the war against the terrorists. Following the self-proclaimed ‘caliphate’s’ defeat, the PMF began agitating for the withdrawal of US forces from the country.
Some Iraqi Shiite parties gave the United States until 31 December 2021 to pull out its remaining troops, and warned
that US forces would be considered occupiers and resisted militarily if they stayed on after that. The United States formally ‘ended’ its combat mission in Iraq in early December, with the estimated 2,500 troops left in the country reassigned to training, support and other non-combat roles. The PMF’s 10,000 militiamen strong al-Nujaba militia warned last year that it would not accept any “rebranded” US role, and demanded that all US personnel
, including its “criminal” Air Force, left.
In the early hours of Saturday, a Shiite militia posted a video on social media showing an alleged RPG roadside attack on a US Army logistics convoy in Dhi Qar governorate in southern Iraq. The Pentagon has not commented on the suspected incident.
Soleimani and al-Muhandis were killed in a drone strike on 3 January 2020, with US officials claiming that the Iranian commander and his Iraqi militia allies were involved in a deadly December 2019 attack on a base containing US troops and mercenaries in Kirkuk, Iraq. Iraqi intelligence later concluded that the Kirkuk attack was likely carried out by Daesh. The Trump administration eventually downgraded its claims
about the danger posed by Soleimani, first claiming that he was an “imminent threat” to the US and its allies, but later admitting that there was no specific intelligence pointing to any Soleimani plots against America. Later, Trump told a group donors that Soleimani was “saying bad things” about the US and was a “noted terrorist”.
During his time as chief of Iran’s Quds Force, Soleimani repeatedly accused the US of colluding with Daesh, once asking his deputy to “slap the West in the face” with proof of US cooperation with the terrorist group in Iraq.
Iran responded to the Quds Force commander’s killing by firing over a dozen ballistic missiles at two Iraqi bases containing US troops on 8 January 2020 in an mission dubbed ‘Operation Martyr Soleimani.’ The strikes left 110 US military personnel with traumatic brain injuries, and Washington threatened to retaliate with strikes inside Iran, before scrapping the plans.
Iraq’s parliament reacted by issuing a resolution demanding the withdrawal of US forces from the country, and the transfer of military bases back to the Iraqi side. The Trump administration initially balked at these demands, claiming Iraq would have to pay America “billions of dollars” to get its bases back. The United States nonetheless began scaling down its troop numbers in March of 2020, from a high of 5,200 to 2,500 by the time Trump left office, and transferred multiple bases to the Iraqi security forces.
Tehran has vowed to prosecute those responsible for Soleimani’s killing, including Trump and other members of his administration. Judges in Iran and Iraq have issued arrest warrants against the former president, but Interpol has refused to touch the case, citing its “political” nature. On Friday, Tehran stated that responsibility for Soleimani’s death now lies on the Biden administration’s shoulders, and that the president is responsible for the “terrorist attack that was orchestrated and carried out in an organised manner” by his predecessor.
Last year, Iranian authorities alleged that Israel “directed”
the killing of Soleimani. In December, Tamir Hayman, the former chief of Israel’s military intelligence directorate, made the unprecedented admission that Israel was indeed involved in the attack, hailing it as “an achievement”
against the Iranian “main enemy.”
22 December 2021, 00:13 GMT
* A terrorist group outlawed in Russia and many other countries.