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Thousands protest in Baghdad to demand U.S. troop withdrawal

CBSNews

Baghdad — Thousands of protesters gathered Friday in central Baghdad to demand that American troops leave the country as anti-U.S. feelings run high in the country following the drone strike ordered by President Donald Trump that killed a top Iranian general in the Iraqi capital.

CBS News correspondent Charlie D'Agata said it was being called the "Million Man March," and while the actual turnout wasn't confirmed, he said he could see himself that it was huge, with crowds stretching for miles in every direction.   

Supporters of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr protest against what they say is U.S. presence and violations in Iraq, during a demonstration in Baghdad

Supporters of Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr protest against the U.S. military presence in Iraq during a demonstration in Baghdad, January 24, 2020. THAIER AL-SUDANI/REUTERS

  The crowds were answering the call of leading Shiite cleric Muqtadr al-Sadr, who urged Iraqis to come out into the streets to voice their opposition to the U.S. military presence in the country.

It is the continuation of the angry response in Iraq to the U.S. drone strike just over three weeks ago that killed Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani and a senior Iraqi militia leader. Iraqis saw it not only as an attack on an Iranian general with ties to Iranian-backed militias in the country, but a violation of Iraq's sovereignty.   The attack has already triggered angry demonstrations that spilled over into attacks against the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. That triggered the deployment of more U.S. troops to the wider region, in a bid to protect American citizens and interests.

D'Agata said Iraqi officials had vowed to keep the crowds gathered in Baghdad on Friday well away from the U.S. Embassy, but he said the anger at the United States and President Trump on the streets was palpable.  Some protesters chanted "get out, get out, occupier!"

Supporters of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr carry placards depicting U.S. President Donald Trump at a protest against what they say is U.S. presence and violations in Iraq, duri in Baghdad

Supporters of Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr carry placards depicting U.S. President Donald Trump at a protest against the U.S. military presence in Iraq, in Baghdad, January 24, 2020. ALAA AL-MARJANI/REUTERS

Iraq's parliament responded to the airstrike on Soleimani with a decisive, but non-binding vote to demand the withdrawal of U.S. forces. Iraq's government, which clearly under pressure, has not ordered any withdrawal.

U.S. officials have halted all counter-ISIS joint operations for the roughly 5,000 American troops who have worked closely for years with Iraqi counterparts. They are focusing instead on defending U.S. personnel and interests in the wake of an Iranian missile attack on bases in Iraq.

A senior U.S. official said this week that thus far there has been no "engagement" with Iraqi leaders on reaching an new agreement on the American deployment in the country.

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Thousands protest in Baghdad against U.S. troop presence