Shouting anti-US slogans and calling for unity among Shias and Sunnis in Iraq, the Iraqi demonstrators on Saturday urged the “immediate withdrawal of US troops” from the war-wrecked country, a Press TV correspondent reported.
The protest came after US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Thursday that the United States would maintain troops in Iraq beyond the agreed 2011 final withdrawal date if Iraq’s government asked for extra help.
Prominent Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr requested on Saturday that his supporters resume their resistance against American troops if the forces do not leave the Middle Eastern country by the end of the year.
“If the Americans don’t leave Iraq on time, we will increase the resistance and restart the activities of the Mahdi Army,” Sadr said in a statement read by a spokesman to thousands of Iraqi demonstrators in Baghdad on the same day.
Iraqi government spokesman Ali Al-Dabbagh also said on Friday that Baghdad does not want the United States to keep its troops in the war-torn country beyond 2011.
“Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki told Defense Secretary Robert Gates yesterday that the Iraqi government is against any presence of US troops or other foreign troops on Iraqi territory,” Dabbagh said.
A 2008 security agreement between Baghdad and Washington mandates the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq before 2012.
The United States completed military operations in the country during the summer of 2009 and withdrew its combat units. Most US soldiers are scheduled to leave Iraq in the summer of 2011.
According to the Associated Press, about 47,000 US troops remain in Iraq, down from a peak of more than 170,000.
At least 4,443 Iraqis have so far been killed in Iraq since the US-led invasion of the Middle Eastern country in 2003, the independent www.icasualties.org. said.