Supporters of Iran-backed Iraqi group protest United States sanctions

BAGHDAD (AP) — Hundreds of demonstrators supporting a powerful Iran-backed militia group in Iraq poured into a central Baghdad plaza last Saturday, some burning American flags to protest recent United States (US) sanctions against key leaders.

The protest came as Washington pointed fingers at Iranian proxy groups for a recent spate of rocket attacks against its military bases in Iraq.

The protesters burnt American and Israeli flags, as well as cardboard cutouts of US President Donald Trump in Firdous Square, a central plaza that is close to where anti-government demonstrators have been camped out since October 1.

The protest came a day after Washington blamed “Iran’s proxies” for carrying out several attacks against Iraqi military bases co-located with US soldiers and warned it would take action against future attacks against American interests in Iraq.

An emblem of the US Department of Treasury was placed on the ground so protesters could walk over it, a symbolic rejection of a recent decision by the US to sanction leaders of Asaib al-Haq, a powerful Iran-backed militia group in Iraq accused of being behind deadly sniping attacks on anti-government protesters earlier in October.

On December 6, the US Treasury sanctioned leader Qais al-Khazali, his brother Laith al-Khazali, a commander in the group, and Husain Falih Aziz al-Lami, who allegedly commanded the unit of snipers.

“Today’s demonstration is clear in its aim and message: It is to reject foreign intervention in Iraq’s internal decisions,” said Naim al-Aboudi, a lawmaker. “In addition to that, it is to reject the decision of the United States of America regarding popular leaders and on top of them is sheikh Qais al-Khazali. Therefore, all these people are here to rise up and condemn these decisions.”

Asaib al-Haq-affiliated lawmakers also hold at least 13 seats in Iraq’s Parliament.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Iranian proxy groups in Iraq for instigating a spate of rocket attacks targetting military bases with US personnel.