Huge rally as Iraqis demand US troops pull out

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Media captionProtesters descend on central Baghdad

Huge crowds have taken to the streets of Iraq’s capital, Baghdad, to demand that US forces leave Iraq.

Powerful Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr earlier called for a million people to join Friday’s march, close to the US embassy in the capital.

Iranian-backed militias were among those protesting in the city.

The US killing of the top Iranian military commander, Gen Qasem Soleimani, on 3 January at Baghdad airport has fuelled tensions.

Also assassinated in the US drone strike was Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an Iraqi who had commanded the Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia group.

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Media captionThis footage, reportedly of the missile attack, was shown on Iranian state TV

Iran responded on 8 January to Gen Soleimani’s assassination by carrying out a ballistic missile attack on two airbases housing US forces in Iraq.

The US said at the time that no Americans were wounded in the attack, but a Pentagon spokesman has now disclosed that 34 service members suffered traumatic brain injuries.

Hours after the strike, Iran’s armed forces fired two missiles at a Ukrainian passenger plane over Iran’s capital, Tehran, by mistake, killing all 176 people on board.

What’s the latest from Baghdad?

Protesters started to gather in central Baghdad early on Friday, and several hours later, the area was packed with people.

Many carried Iraq’s national flags as well as placards denouncing the US military presence in Iraq.

“Death to America!” demonstrators chanted, and some carried a cardboard cut-out of US President Donald Trump.

A statement was read from Mr al-Sadr, although he did not attend the march.

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Protesters have been marching towards Baghdad’s al-Hurriya Square and around the capital’s main university

The demonstration threatens to eclipse a separate protest movement involving mainly young people who for several months have been demanding a complete overhaul of the Iraqi government, says the BBC’s Martin Patience in Baghdad.

Earlier this month, Iraqi lawmakers passed a non-binding resolution calling for foreign troops to leave the country.

Some 5,000 US soldiers are in Iraq as part of the international coalition against the Islamic State (IS) group.

The two airbases targeted by Iran are in Irbil and al-Asad, west of Baghdad.

How did we get here?

The assassination of Gen Soleimani – head of the Revolutionary Guards’ elite Quds Force and architect of Iran’s policy in the region – was a major escalation in already deteriorating relations between Iran and the US.

The general was regarded as a terrorist by the US government, which says he was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American troops and was plotting “imminent” attacks.

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Media captionWho was Qasem Soleimani?

He was assassinated following an attack on the US embassy in Baghdad. Protesters were furious over the deaths of militia members in earlier US air strikes.

Washington blamed Iran for the embassy attack, with US President Donald Trump warning that Iran would “pay a very big price” for any damage or loss of life.