Burned protest tents in Nasiriya (Al Mirbad)
Following Moqtada al-Sadr’s withdrawal of support for the anti-government protest movement there has been a concerted effort by the security forces and Hashd to break up some of the major sit-in sites. This has led to several deadly days of confrontations and showed the resilience of the protesters.
Things began with Sadr’s anti-U.S. rally in Baghdad and then his followers leaving the sit-in camps. On January 24, Sadr held his march in the capital against the U.S. presence in Iraq. Afterward he said he would no longer stand with the demonstrations. These two events pointed to Sadr shifting towards Tehran, which has accused the protests of being a U.S. plot, and helped orchestrate bloody attacks upon them in October. After the deaths of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Force commander General Qasim Suleimani and the deputy head of the Hashd Commission Abu Muhandis there have been reports that Tehran is trying to make Sadr its point man in Iraq, which would include moving against the protests. It might have been successful.
Sadr’s move led to attacks upon sit-ins in Baghdad, Basra, Najaf, Nasiriya and Karbala. Demonstrators in Baghdad, Basra, Najaf, and Nasiriya were attacked first on January 25, leading to one death in the capital. The Baghdad Operations Command announced that it cleared Ahrar Bridge and the Mohammed al-Qasim Highway of people along with Wasba and Khalani Squares, burning tents, but failed to break up the camp in Tahrir Square. The Najaf sit in site was reportedly dismantled and three more died in Nasiriya. The repression continued into the next day with 9 killed in Baghdad and 3 in Nasiriya along with 426 wounded and 89 arrested in Baghdad and Basra. January 27 gunmen in pick-up trucks shot at the demonstrators killing two and burned tents in Nasiriya , while in Karbala riot police used live ammunition and arrested people. Despite these attacks the protests continue across all these provinces and the rest of the south. There were renewed crowds in many cities after Sadr’s move and the attacks on Saturday. In some sites people started rebuilding the sit-in camps with bricks to make up for the burned down tents. This is not the first time violence has been used against them, and yet they continue. The problem is that the government has refused to budge on any reforms and even Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi remains in office after he resigned.
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