BAGHDAD — Iraqi Shi’a groups have exhorted Iraqis to turn out for a “million-strong” march on Friday aimed at whipping up anti-American sentiment as the United States’ struggle with Iran plays out on the streets of Baghdad.
Those behind the rally have two goals in mind — to pressure Washington to pull its troops out of Iraq and to eclipse the mass anti-government protests that have challenged their grip on power.
It is likely to end up at the gates of the U.S. Embassy, the seat of U.S. power in Iraq and the scene of violent clashes last month when militia supporters tried to storm the compound. It could turn nasty again.
The U.S. assassination of a top Iranian military general, Qassem Soleimani, in Baghdad this month has given renewed impetus to Iran’s allies in Iraq.
But it has also raised the specter of more civil strife in a country torn by years of sectarian conflict, lawmakers, protesters and analysts say.
“The assassination threw the political classes, and Iran-leaning actors in particular, a lifeline,” said Fanar Haddad, senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute.
“It created a counter-cause and a counter-crisis that pushed the protests out of the news cycle — albeit briefly.”
The call for Friday’s “million-strong” march came from cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who opposes all foreign interference in Iraq but has recently aligned himself more closely with Iran.