deadly crackdown on anti-power protests after Moqtada Al-Sadr's turnaround

Protesters show shields inscribed with the words "Tahrir protection brigade" on January 25 in Baghdad.
Protesters show shields inscribed with the words "Tahrir protection brigade" on January 25 in Baghdad. SABAH ARAR / AFP

Thousands of anti-power protesters, including many students, marched on Sunday, January 26, in Baghdad and southern Iraq, in distrust of the authorities after an attempt to dismantle their sit-ins. The assault launched by the security forces, on the night of Friday to Saturday, against several places of the protest, indeed gave rise to a particularly deadly weekend. At least 12 people have been killed and 230 injured in two days, according to the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights, bringing the number of victims of repression to nearly 500 since the start of the movement in October 2019.

Before dawn on Saturday, riot forces dislodged protesters at Al-Bahariya Square in Basra, in the south of the country, setting their tents on fire. In Baghdad, security forces have reopened roads and roundabouts occupied by protesters around Tahrir Square, raising fears of an imminent assault on this nerve center of anti-power contestation. The assault continued on Sunday, including in Nassiriya, where security forces attacked the sit-in, burning the tents and firing live ammunition at the demonstrators.

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Shortly before this coordinated assault, many supporters of the populist Shiite leader Moqtada Al-Sadr had defeated their tents and left the sit-ins in Baghdad and the south at the call of their leader. Moqtada Al-Sadr announced in a furious Tweet late Friday that he would withdraw his support for the protest after the success of a "Million walk" which he organized in Baghdad against the American presence in Iraq. "He gave the green light to the government to quell the protests, Husanein Ali, a 35-year-old protester, responded to the Associated Press agency. We view this as a betrayal of the blood of the martyrs and the sacrifices of the supporters of Moqtada Al-Sadr. "

Sadrists shocked by the release of their leader

The latter, who established himself at the head of the first political force in Parliament in 2018 on a nationalist and pre-reform roadmap, had so far supported the demonstrators' calls for the resignation of the government and the organization of early elections. His supporters, who number in the millions in the popular Shiite suburbs of Baghdad and the south of the country, and are among those most affected by unemployment and the collapse of public services, had already joined the ranks of the protesters in numbers. They played an essential role in the logistics of the sit-ins and their security. Their presence, and the risk of a confrontation with the Sadrist movement, restrained the authorities. Those, also numerous, among the demonstrators, consider Moqtada Al-Sadr as being part of the system they want to fall from, have accepted it, while fearing a political recovery.


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