Violent attacks against anti-government protesters in Iraq leave seven dead

Protesters in the city of Nasiriyah were reportedly attacked by followers of Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, leading to multiple deaths and injuries

November 30, 2020 by Peoples Dispatch
Anti-govt protests Iraq
Supporters of Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr clash with anti-government protesters in Nasiriyah (Photo: Reuters/Ahmed Dhahi)

Anti-government protests in Iraq entered the third day on November 29, Sunday. As many as seven people were killed in the previous two days. Massive protests took place in the Iraqi capital Baghdad and southern parts of the country, including the cities of Nasiriyah, Kut and Amara. The anti-government protesters were met by thousands of armed followers of influential Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. His followers reportedly attacked and clashed with the protesters in Nasiriyah, resulting in the deaths of seven people and wounding 60 others.

The epicenter of the violence was the Haboubi square in Nasiriyah, where anti-government protesters reported being attacked by al-Sadr’s followers with guns, pistols and petrol bombs. At least five of the seven protesters killed died of bullet wounds. Al-Sadr’s followers tried to expel the protesters from their makeshift tents and clear the area. Several tents were torched and destroyed in the intense, violent clashes. Iraqi prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi later declared a state of emergency in the area and dismissed the local police chief. He also formed a committee to conduct an investigation into the violence. 

The Iraqi Communist Party in a statement on Sunday strongly condemned the violence by al-Sadr’s followers. The party blamed the government for failing to prevent the violent attacks against the protesters. The statement added that clearing of the protest area was a gross violation of the rule of law, and called upon the government to restore law and order in the country and punish the perpetrators of violence.

Anti-government protests in Iraq began in October 2019 against the country’s ruling establishment elite. The protesters are demanding a complete overhaul of the political and administrative system, an end to government corruption, and solutions to the problems of poverty, unemployment, illiteracy and inadequate public services. The government under former prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi responded to the protests with a brutal crackdown in which close to 600 people died and over 20,000 were injured. Mahdi’s government faced widespread anger and opposition, eventually leading to his resignation. His successor Al-Kadhimi has repeatedly attempted to pacify the protesters and expressed his willingness to listen to their demands. His government recently announced elections in June next year, fulfilling one of the key demands of the protesters.