Iraqi Shia leader Moqtada al-Sadr on Friday called for a scheduled withdrawal of US troops from Iraq through peaceful means.
Al-Sadr made the call in a letter sent to a massive rally of Iraqis in al-Jaderiyah district, central Baghdad. "We will try to pursue all peaceful political, economic, social, cultural and popular means," the leader said.
Tens of thousands of Iraqis, mainly al-Sadr's followers, gathered to reject the presence of US troops in Iraq, in response to an earlier call by al-Sadr.
If the primary goal, which is to schedule the withdrawal of the US forces, is fulfilled, the peaceful means will continue until full withdrawal is realized, al-Sadr said in the letter.
He said full withdrawal can only be achieved by closing all American military bases on Iraqi soil, closing the headquarters of American security companies and ending their work in Iraq, and closing the Iraqi airspace to the military and intelligence flights of the U.S. forces.
He also called on cancelling all security agreements with the United States due to the absence of an international balance in them since concluded, and they were approved during the years of the U.S. occupation of Iraq after 2003.
Referring to the sporadic attacks on facilities and military bases housing U.S. troops, al-Sadr pledged a "pause of all resistance" until the withdrawal of the last U.S. soldier from Iraq.
"We will try to do our utmost not to throw Iraq into another war with the unjust occupier who perched on the chest of Iraq," al-Sadr said.
The Iraqi parliament passed a resolution requiring the government to end the presence of foreign forces in Iraq on Jan. 5, two days after a U.S. drone strike on a convoy at Baghdad airport which killed Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force of Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy chief of Iraq's paramilitary Hashd Shaabi forces.
Over 5,000 U.S. troops have been deployed in Iraq to support the Iraqi forces in the battles against Islamic State militants, mainly providing training and advising to the Iraqi forces.
Russian President Vladimir Putin landed in Israel on Thursday for a one-day visit during which he will take part in the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp.
Putin was welcomed in the Ben Gurion Airport outside Tel Aviv in an official ceremony by Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz and other officials.
The president is expected to hold meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin.
He also plans to meet Yaffa Issachar, mother of Naama Issachar, a 27-year-old Israeli woman jailed in Moscow over drug charges.
The meeting comes amidst reports on Russian authorities preparing for her early release after the case sparked a wide protest in Israel.
Issachar, a backpacker who was on her way home after a trip in India, was arrested during transit through a Moscow airport. Russian authorities said 9.6 grams of marijuana were found in her backpack, which she says was not belong to her.
In October, she was sentenced for 7.5 years in prison over "drug trafficking."
Putin is also scheduled to attend a dedication ceremony of a monument honoring the veterans and victims of the siege of Leningrad in Gan Sacher in Jerusalem together with Rivlin and Netanyahu.
Masked gunmen on Wednesday ambushed and killed the local commander of a paramilitary security force in southwestern Iran, an associate of Iran's top general recently killed in an American drone strike in Baghdad, the official IRNA news agency reported.
The slain commander, Abdolhossein Mojaddami, headed the Basij forces, a paramilitary wing of the Revolutionary Guard used for internal security and other tasks, in the town of Darkhoein. He was gunned down in front of his home in the town in the country's oil rich Khuzestan province.
Two gunmen on a motorcycle, armed with an assault rifle and a hunting rifle, ambushed Mojaddami, IRNA reported. Other Iranian media said the gunmen's faces were covered with masks and that four shots were fired.
The case is under investigation and a motive was not immediately clear, but Basij units had been involved in violent clashes with demonstrators in the area in November in which many protesters were injured and killed. Amnesty International has reported that more than 300 people were killed in the unrest across the country, though Iran has not announced a death toll.
Mojaddami's killing is seen another blow to the Revolutionary Guard, following the death of top general Qasse m Soleimani earlier this month in a U.S. drone strike in Iraq. Mojaddami was described by IRNA as an associated of Soleimani, who was the head of the Quds forces, the foreign wing of the Guard.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged on Tuesday a global "sanction" against the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the wake of a possible war-crime investigation against Israel.
In an interview to be broadcast later on Tuesday in TBN, the world's largest Christian Network, Netanyahu hailed U.S. President Donald Trump for "forcefully" speaking against the ICC over its intent to open a war-crime case against Israel's conduct in the occupied West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem.
"I urge all your viewers to do the same," he said, according to excerpts released by the Israeli Prime Minister's office. "To ask for concrete actions, sanction against the international court, its officials, prosecutors, everyone," Netanyahu said.
ICC chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, announced in December that there was a "reasonable basis" to launch an investigation into war crimes in the occupied territories and settlements.
The court is currently mulling whether it has territorial jurisdiction before continuing with the procedure.
Israel is not a member of the ICC and Netanyahu as well as Israel's Attorney-General Avihai Mandelblit said that the ICC has no jurisdiction over Israel.
Iraqi security forces wounded dozens of protesters on Sunday as renewed anti-government demonstrations gripped the capital and Iraq's south, activists and officials said.
The mass protests had lost steam when soaring U.S.-Iran tensions threatened an open conflict on Iraqi soil in past weeks.
As the regional crisis receded, Iraqi activists gave the government a week's deadline to act on their demands for sweeping political reforms or said they would up the pressure with new demonstrations.
The uprising began on Oct. 1 when thousands of Iraqis took to the streets to decry rampant government corruption, poor public services and a scarcity of jobs. Protesters are demanding an end to Iraq's sectarian political system, alongside early elections and the stepping aside of its ruling elite.
Clashes between protesters and security forces in central Baghdad wounded at least 27 people on Sunday. Security forces fired tear gas to disperse crowds in Tayaran square and the nearby Sinak bridge, wounding 23, an activist and two medical officials said. Some protesters hurled rocks at police, wounding four personnel, a security official and two medical officials said.
The Iraqi officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
Three Iraqi activists said that more rallies are planned in the coming days as the protesters seek to refocus public attention on their mass movement.
Tensions between the U.S. and Iran peaked after an American drone strike killed a top Iranian commander and Iraqi militia leader outside Baghdad's international airport. Those killings prompted days of political turmoil across the region and Iraq that led to Iraqi lawmakers calling for a U.S. troop withdrawal.
Supporters of the influential Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr say they are organizing a mass protest this week supporting calls for the ousting of American troops from Iraq in response to the U.S. drone attack. The planned rallies in support of al-Sadr have prompted fears of more clashes with the anti-government demonstrators, who say they are against both Iranian and U.S. influence in Iraqi affairs.
Protesters have been in a standoff with security forces on three strategic bridges — Sinak, Ahrar and Jumhuriyah — that lead toward the fortified Green Zone, the seat of Iraq's government.
Meanwhile, Iraq's parliament postponed a critical session on Sunday due to lack of quorum. Lawmakers were expected to discuss candidates to replace outgoing Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, who resigned in December under pressure from protesters. The next session is expected to be held Wednesday.
Earlier on Sunday, protests burned tires cutting off main thoroughfares in Baghdad.
Protests were also held in the southern provinces of Najaf, Dhi Qar, Karbala and Basra.
Activists expressed fears that parallel protests planned by al-Sadr's supporters to take place on Friday could eclipse their peaceful anti-government movement. However, al-Sadr has emerged as a supporter of the movement. Many of the protesters hail from Baghdad's impoverished areas where the Shiite leader enjoys widespread support; his militia group, Saraya al-Salam, has acted as unarmed protectors for the demonstrators.
In a statement on Sunday, al-Sadr said he supported the recent escalation by anti-government protesters and lambasted the political elite for not selecting a new premier.
But activists said the protests called by al-Sadr supporters to oust U.S. troops could weaken their hard-fought movement.
"We are scared of one side trying to start a fight with the other side," said Ahmed, 34, one of protest organizer in Baghdad's Tahrir square, the epicenter of the movement. "For our part we are staying calm and focusing on our goals."