Published: Sat, January 25, 2020
Global News | By Blake Casey

Iraq protest tents set ablaze after cleric withdraws support

Iraq protest tents set ablaze after cleric withdraws support

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. With that cover gone, many in the four-month-old movement feared the worst.

"Al-Sadr has shown the he can bring large numbers to the street, by asking his supporters to withdraw yesterday nigh is showing that he is the force behind the protests, and can put an end to them if necessary", said Jiyad.

At around 2am local time Saturday, riot police set had fire to a protest encampment in a central square in the oil-rich southern city of Basra, two activists said.

At least 25 people were wounded.

It also pushed protesters out of Tayaran Square and Mohammad Qasim highway, where new sit-ins this week were meant to pressure authorities into enacting long-awaited reforms.

The status of USA troops has been controversial for awhile in Iraq, but became dramatically more so after the United States attack on Baghdad International Airport earlier this month, which killed a top Iranian general as well as members of Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).

Some protesters blamed the violence in Tahrir Square on Sadr's decision to no longer be involved in the protests, but one Sadr supporter, refuted that claim, saying the majority of his followers were still present.

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But a crowd of protesters returned in the afternoon to try to resume their rally, clashing with security forces.

The march comes just weeks after Iraq was shaken by an American drone strike near Baghdad airport, which killed Iran's top General Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy chief of Iraq's Shia militia, along with other officers.

Protesters have camped in the capital for months with protesters seeking a snap poll, appointment of an independent prime minister and a crackdown on corruption.

For his part, Basra activist Nakeeb Lueibi said: "The protest square is now controlled (by the security forces), after they used force".

If the conditions were met, the statement said, "the resistance will temporarily stop until the last soldier leaves Iraq", al-Sadr said, referring to American troops.

A statement by the Baghdad Operations Command (BOC) said that the security forces reopened al-Ahrar Bridge and the squares of Tayran and Cordoba and nearby highway named Mohammed al-Qassim, reports Xinhua news agency. Concrete blocs has also been removed to re-open al-Khilani Square.

Protesters continued to occupy Jumhuriya and Sinak bridges, which lead to the heavily fortified Green Zone.

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