SHAFAQNA – Thousands of Iraqis gathered in central Baghdad on Saturday (September 20) to protest against American intervention. Demonstrators waved Iraqi flags and held up pictures of leading Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who says the country should not cooperate with what he calls US “occupiers”. Washington launched air strikes in Iraq in August to combat Islamic State militants – who seized large swathes of territory in the north of the country, and also in neighbouring Syria, over the summer. The anti-US rally in Baghdad came a day after the United Nations held a meeting on Iraq. Washington, which has been working to build an international coalition aimed at defeating the Islamic State group, says more than 40 countries have offered assistance. Iran has so far rejected requests from the US to hold bilateral talks on fighting the militants. Meanwhile, France has become the first country to join the US in air strikes. The French airforce launched its first strikes on Islamic State targets in Iraq on Friday (19 September), less than 24 hours after the intervention was authorised by President François Hollande.