Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr calls for closure of US embassy in Iraq

Cleric urges parliament to vote on his demand in response to Washington's support of Israel

Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada Al Sadr delivers a speech in Najaf, Iraq, October 19, 2023. Reuters
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Iraq's Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr called on the country's government and parliament on Friday to vote to close the US embassy in Baghdad in response to Washington's “unfettered support of Israel”.

“If the government and parliament do not abide by this demand, we will go for further actions which we will later announce,” his statement said.

Hundreds of supporters of Iran-backed Iraqi paramilitary groups gathered last week at Iraq's main border crossing with Jordan to express solidarity with Gaza and call for an end to Israel's blockade.

Some 800 supporters of Iraq's Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), an umbrella group of mainly Shiite militia, left Baghdad last week in buses for the Iraqi-Jordanian border crossing in western Anbar province. It is the closest access point from Iraq to the occupied West Bank.

Some of the protesters waved the flags of Kataib Hezbollah, a US-designated terrorist group that has launched several thousand attacks on American forces in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion.

Mr Al Sadr, whose father and father-in-law were revered Shiite clerics who were killed by the former regime of Saddam Hussein, commands hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of loyal followers.

They hail mainly from economically neglected communities in southern Iraq and north-east Baghdad.

He has in the past mobilised his followers to stage massive protests, sometimes violent demonstrations against foreign embassies and Iraqi government buildings, usually protesting against poor economic conditions or perceived infringements of Iraqi sovereignty.

The US embassy in Baghdad faced one of its most severe security crises in early 2020 after a US drone strike killed Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis, commander of Kataib Hezbollah, and Qassem Sulaimani, a senior Iranian general charged with co-ordinating allied militia operations outside of Iran.

Thousands of pro-Iranian militias broke into a guard room at the front of the embassy before the Iraqi government intervened to end the stand off, which began after Iran fired a volley of ballistic missiles at the US base of Al Assad in western Iraq.

Updated: October 27, 2023, 2:24 PM