Iraqis fear country will be US-Iran battleground after Suleimani killing

Leaders call on Tehran and Washington to keep Baghdad out of their conflict

Members of the Hashed al-Shaabi, an Iraqi paramilitary network dominated by Iran-backed factions, wave the faction flag during a symbolic funeral ceremony in Iraq's central holy city of Karbala on December 29, 2020, on the anniversary of the air strikes by US planes on several bases belonging to the Hezbollah brigades near Al-Qaim.  / AFP / Mohammed SAWAF
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Iraqi leaders warned Washington and Tehran on Tuesday against involving Baghdad in their tense relationship as the anniversary of the killing of Iranian General Qassem Suleimani approaches.

The US and Iran came close to war following rocket attacks on Iraqi bases hosting American forces and US air strikes against militia groups, including the one that killed Suleimani and top Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis on January 3, in Baghdad.

Populist Iraqi cleric Moqtada Al Sadr said Iraq had been "greatly affected" by being an arena for proxy fights.

"Our beloved Iraq has fallen victim to the American-Iranian conflict which has damaged the country in a way that cannot be tolerated any more," Mr Al Sadr said.

“If we don’t see a response to this then we will have a national and political retaliation to protect our nation from any external intrusions,” he added in a post on Twitter.

Suleimani had great influence over Iraq’s internal politics. He managed to fight proxy wars across the region and sought to impose Iran's will on allies in Baghdad.

“Iraq will not bow down to anyone except for God,” Mr Al Sadr said.

Mr Al Sadr's spokesman, Haider Al Jabri, said that the escalation in the region harms the Iraqi public. Many political parties are seeking to create chaos that must be prevented, he said.

Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi said on Monday that "he would not hesitate to protect the security of the Iraqi public".

"We will not allow weapons to threaten the citizen’s freedom, security, and confidence in the electoral process," said Mr Al Kadhimi.

The Interior Ministry announced a plan to protect Baghdad and all security missions in the capital.