Protest tents in Nasiriya burned by pro-Iran groups (Twitter)
Pro-Iran Hashd groups took the deaths of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Force Commander General Qasim Suleimani and deputy head of the Hashd Commission Abu Muhandis to attack protest sites in southern Iraq. This comes as demonstrators are still suffering from kidnappings and assassination attempts.
There were three confrontations in Dhi Qar and Basra between Hashd elements and demonstrators. The first was on January 5 when a funeral procession for Suleimani and Muhandis attacked the sit-in site in Basra city. Hashd elements fired on the camp and burned tents. That same day, another funeral group attempted the same thing in Nasiriya. They were stopped by the demonstrators and again there was shooting, this time killing one and wounding four others. News of the casualties incensed the protest area and people proceeded to march to the Hashd headquarters in the city and burned it down. Guards at the building tried to drive people away using gunfire and killed another person, and wounding two more. Two days later on January 7, the Nasiriya site was set upon again by a group of mourners for Suleimani and Abu Muhandis. Again, they tried to force their way into the sit-in site leading to a confrontation, shooting, another six dead, and more wounded. Tents were also set on fire. These appeared to be local agitation by Hashd groups to provoke and attack the demonstrators. Iran and some in the Hashd have called the protests U.S. led because they have criticized Tehran’s influence in Iraq. These types of incidents have become common place as a result.
The protest movement has not seen the bloody crackdown like it faced when it started in October, but there has been a steady war of attrition against it. On December 28 for instance, Al Aalem published a leaked list of 166 activists that were kidnapped and disappeared since October 1. That same day the Human Rights Commission warned that there was an increase in assassination attempts against protesters. It recorded 33 cases where people had been shot leading to 14 deaths and 19 wounded. Hashd groups and the security forces have carried out this campaign to scare and intimidate people to stop them from participating in the demonstrations. It’s become routine now to read stories of activists being attacked and dying nearly every day. It could get worse if Iran’s allies use the distraction of the U.S.-Iran confrontation to execute another large scale attempt to suppress the protests using force.
Al Aalem, “Names: 166 missing, kidnapped and detained since the protests started,” 12/28/19
- “The sit-in squares in Basra and Nasiriyah are attacked by armed men carrying a symbolic coffin for Suleimani,” 1/6/20
Abdul-Zahra, Qassim, “Iraqi group says 490 protesters killed since October,” Associated Press, 12/28/19
Agence France Presse, “Iraqi protesters denounce twin ‘occupiers’ US and Iran,” 1/5/20
Al Hurra, “Bullets and fire, south of Baghdad … Masked men attack the sit-ins and wounded,” 1/7/20
Al Masalah, “Clashes in Nasiriyah between demonstrators, unknown elements and eyewitnesses, talking about gunfire,” 1/7/20
Nasiriya TV, “Medical source: The death toll in the Al-Haboubi demonstration square increase to six,” 1/7/20
NINA, “IHCHR: We Marked An Increase In Assassinations And Targeting Citizens Due To The Fragile Security Situation,” 12/28/19
NRT, “Protesters Burn Hashd Al-Shaabi Headquarters In Iraq’s Nasiriyah,” 1/5/20
Saadoun, Mustafa, “Are Iraq’s PMU militias planning to put an end to protests?” Al Monitor, 1/6/20
Shilani, Hiwa, “33 cases of assassination in Iraq since start of Iraq protests: IHCHR,” Kurdistan 24, 12/30/19
Al Sumaria, “Shooting at the Nasiriya sit-in square, and the police go to control the situation,” 1/7/20