4 killed, dozens injured after Iraqi security forces raid protest camps

Published January 25, 2020
Iraqi anti-government demonstrators check burnt tents at a protest sit-in in Tahrir Square in the centre of the Iraqi capital Baghdad on Saturday. — AFP
Iraqi anti-government demonstrators check burnt tents at a protest sit-in in Tahrir Square in the centre of the Iraqi capital Baghdad on Saturday. — AFP

Iraqi security forces raided Baghdad's main protest site on Saturday and tried to eject protesters in southern cities, firing tear gas and bullets, killing four people and wounding dozens more, police and medical sources said.

The new push to end the sit-ins and restore order came hours after populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who counts millions of supporters in Baghdad and the south, said he would halt his involvement in anti-government unrest.

Sadr's supporters, who had bolstered the anti-government protesters and sometimes played a role in protecting them from attacks by security forces and unidentified gunmen, began withdrawing from sit-ins early on Saturday after Sadr's announcement.

Clashes then took place after authorities began removing concrete barriers near Tahrir Square where anti-government demonstrators have camped out for months, and across at least one main bridge over the Tigris River in the capital, Reuters reporters said.

Anti-government protester run during clashes with security forces in Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday. — AP
Anti-government protester run during clashes with security forces in Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday. — AP

Supporters of al-Sadr had begun to leave protest camps overnight after he announced he would no longer be involved in the anti-government demonstrations.

In the southern city of Basra, security forces raided the main anti-government sit-in overnight and deployed in force to stop protesters gathering there again, security sources said. Police arrested at least 16 protesters in the city, they said.

In Baghdad, at least one person was killed and more than 30 injured in clashes between police and protesters near Tahrir Square. Another three died and 14 were wounded in the southern city of Nassiriya when security forces took control of a bridge occupied for days by demonstrators, security sources and medics said.

Iraq's security forces have used tear gas and live ammunition against mostly peaceful protesters since anti-government unrest broke out in Baghdad on October 1. More than 450 people have died in the violence, according to a Reuters tally from police and medics.

Months of demonstrations

The demonstrators demand the removal of what they see as a corrupt Iraqi ruling elite and the end of interference in politics by foreign powers, especially Iran which has come to dominate state institutions since the toppling of Saddam Hussein in a 2003 US-led invasion.

The actions of the security forces appeared to be an attempt to fully clear anti-government sit-ins and end months of demonstrations calling for the removal of Iraq's ruling elite.

The raids began hours after al-Sadr said he would halt the involvement of his supporters in the anti-government unrest.

Sadr had supported the demands of protesters for the removal of corrupt politicians and for the provision of services and jobs soon after the demonstrations began in October, but stopped short of calling all his followers to join in.

Many of Sadr's millions of supporters, often hailing from Baghdad's slums, have however been involved in the protests.

Iraqi anti-government protesters carry black shields made out of metal drums, on which they had painted the words "Tahrir Shield Squad.", as they gather at al-Sinek bridge in the capital Baghdad on Saturday. — AFP
Iraqi anti-government protesters carry black shields made out of metal drums, on which they had painted the words "Tahrir Shield Squad.", as they gather at al-Sinek bridge in the capital Baghdad on Saturday. — AFP

Sadr's followers, in a rally on Friday separate from the anti-government protests, called for the removal of US troops from the country. The march dissipated after several hours.

Sadr wrote on Twitter late on Friday he would “try not to interfere in the issue (of protesters), either negatively or positively, so that they can shepherd the fate of Iraq.” He did not elaborate.

In Basra, protesters urged Sadr to reconsider what they said was a withdrawal of support for popular demonstrations. In a letter circulated on social media, they called for the support of Sadrists, without which they feared attacks by security forces.

Opinion

Border deaths
21 Apr 2021

Border deaths

Will the rulers be moved by the sight of Zamyad drivers dying of hunger?
Embracing informality
Updated 20 Apr 2021

Embracing informality

There are many cities that have experimented successfully in legalising and managing the street vendor business.

Editorial

More mishandling
Updated 21 Apr 2021

More mishandling

By its bad decision-making and weak management, the govt has allowed the TLP to garner more importance and heft than it deserves.
21 Apr 2021

Declining FDI

THE sharp decline in FDI in recent months is worrisome. New State Bank data shows that FDI has plummeted by a hefty...
21 Apr 2021

The digital divide

IN the Economist Intelligence Unit’s annual Inclusive Internet Index report, measuring internet inclusion in terms...
Media blackout
Updated 20 Apr 2021

Media blackout

A free flow of information is the best way to counter rumour-mongering and fake news.
20 Apr 2021

Gas utilities’ reluctance

THE government has ‘ordered’ state-owned gas companies SSGC and SNGPL to remove impediments hampering the...
20 Apr 2021

Saudi-Iran talks

EVER since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, ties between Tehran and Riyadh have been increasingly strained,...