baghdad (& najaf) getting very dangerous

Footage reveals chaos and panic in Baghdad
Reuters, Dec 8 2019


Footage uploaded to social media on Friday shows people hiding behind walls as bullets fly past, on the night at least 23 people were killed in Baghdad. The person filming during the shootings told Reuters:

The bullets just kept coming, I was hiding behind some concrete to protect myself, militias in white cars were shooting at us using different weapons, heavy and light artillery and even hand grenades. I was frightened, I thought we were going to die.

In one of the bloodiest nights in the capital since protests began nearly 130 others were wounded by gunfire and stabbings targeting anti-government protesters at the Sinak bridge near Tahrir Square, sources said. The death toll includes three members of the police. Thousands of Iraqis have occupied the central square and three nearby bridges which lead to the city’s Green Zone, Iraq’s political centre, for more than two months, calling for a complete uprooting of the political system. Friday and further attacks on Saturday came days after Iraq’s prime minister, Adel Abd’ul-Mahdi, said he would resign.

Rocket hits Iraqi cleric’s home following deadly Baghdad attack
Ahmed Rasheed, Reuters, Dec 7 2019

BAGHDAD – A rocket fired from a drone targeted the home of Moqtada al-Sadr on Saturday, his Saeroon party said, following one of the capital’s bloodiest nights in recent weeks. The drone attack, which caused little damage and left no casualties, followed a deadly attack by armed men near Baghdad’s main protest site on Friday night which left at least 23 dead, police and medical sources said. Nearly 130 others were wounded by gunfire and stabbings targeting anti-government protesters at the Sinak bridge near Tahrir Square. The death toll includes three members of the police. Thousands of Iraqis have occupied the central square and three nearby bridges which lead to the city’s Green Zone, Iraq’s political centre, for more than two months, calling for a complete uprooting of the political system. Friday and Saturday’s attacks came days after PM Adel Abd’ul-Mahdi, said he would resign. Sadr, who has supported the protests but not thrown his full weight behind them, was in Iran at the time of the drone attack on his home in the southern city of Najaf, a source in his office said. However, his party said the incidents were aimed at pressuring both protesters and political leaders to accept whichever candidate is nominated for the premiership by the ruling elite. Jaafar Al-Mousaw:

The Sinak massacre and the bombing of Muqtada are geared at pushing the acceptance of the candidate for prime minister.

Iranians including Gen Qassem Soleimani stepped in to prevent Abd’ul-Mahdi’s resignation in October, Reuters reported. Soleimani was reported to be in Baghdad this week, negotiating with political leaders for a new consensus candidate for prime minister. The weekend’s developments marked a drastic escalation to quell the demonstrations, the country’s largest in decades. More than 430 people have been killed since protests began on Oct 1. Security sources said they could not identify the gunmen who attacked protesters on Friday night. The incident was followed by further intimidation early on Saturday morning, as more unknown gunmen drove in a convoy down the main riverside street which leads to Tahrir Square, firing a volley of shots towards it. The heavily-armed masked gunmen roamed the street near Tahrir Square and attempted to advance onto it but were eventually turned around at a checkpoint manned by Iraq’s security forces, witnesses said. Friday’s deadly attack came hours after Faschingstein imposed sanctions on three Iranian-backed Iraqi paramilitary leaders whom it accused of directing the killing of Iraqi protesters. A senior OFAC official suggested the sanctions were intended to deter those figures from assuming any role in forming a new government. Western diplomats condemned the attack on protesters, urging Iraqi authorities to investigate whoever is responsible. The government has said it would investigate and try those responsible for the violence, but there has been little evidence of real accountability, partly due to the complexity of Iraq’s varied security apparatus.

Tensions flare as unidentified gunmen kill protesters in Baghdad
Al-Jazeera, Dec 8 2019

Iraqi officials raised the death toll to 25 on Sunday after attacks by unidentified gunmen who targeted anti-government demonstrators near the main protest camp in Baghdad. More than 130 others were also wounded by gunfire and stabbings near Tahrir Square on Friday night, the main protest camp in the Iraqi capital. It was the most violent flare-up for weeks and came a week after parliament accepted prime minister Adel Abd’ul-Mahdi’s resignation following two months of huge protests demanding his departure and the overhaul of the country’s political system. Iraq’s parliament was to hold an emergency session on Sunday to discuss the bloodshed. Gunmen on pick-up trucks late on Friday attacked a large building near the al-Sinak bridge where anti-government protesters had been camped out for weeks. Al Jazeera’s Dorsa Jabbari said on Saturday, reporting from Baghdad:

According to our sources, this violence began late last night around Khilani Square that’s just north of Tahrir Square.

The attackers forced the protesters out of the building and live rounds could be heard after the altercation. State television said the building had been torched “by unidentified men.” The attacks claimed the lives of 22 protesters and three policemen, officials said. Some protesters accused the government of colluding with the masked gunmen, pointing to a power outage that happened around the same time as the attacks, but a senior electricity ministry official denied the allegation, saying it would have been easy for anyone to cut the power lines. Jabbari said:

This is an escalation in terms of the division that’s being created within the demonstrations and the various groups that are trying to take control of the voice on the streets of Baghdad.

The attacks came a day after a string of suspicious stabbing incidents left at least 13 wounded in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, the epicentre of Iraq’s leaderless weeks-long protest movement. More than 400 protesters have been killed and nearly 20,000 wounded since anti-government demonstrations erupted on Oct 1. Separately, an armed drone targeted the home of Iraqi Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr in the southern city of Najaf, hours after his supporters deployed in Baghdad in response to the attacks on demonstrators, according to his office. Al-Sadr’s spox Salah al-Obeidi said:

This is a clear attack that could kindle a war, maybe a civil war, in Iraq. Self-restraint is essential.

A source from al-Sadr’s party said “only the external wall was damaged” in the attack, adding al-Sadr was currently in Iran. Many of those who arrived in Baghdad after Friday’s attack were suspected to be members of Saraya al-Salam, a militia headed by al-Sadr, who had previously supported Abd’ul-Mahdi’s government but has since backed the protest movement. A source from Saraya said al-Sadr sent his followers to the streets after Friday’s attack to “protect protesters.” According to Iraqi researcher Zeidon al-Kinani, the attack on Sadr’s compound may have been an attempt to pull him into the protest movement as a “spiritual leader.” He told Al Jazeera:

The government and the pro-Iranian militias are very aware that this is one of the main things the protesters were against since the early stages of the revolution. The protesters refused to have any of the old faces, whether they were in the government or in the ethnic sectarian quota, which Muqtada al-Sadr was himself a part of.

Street protests have roiled Iraq since early October, with demonstrators calling for the resignation of the government, the dissolution of Parliament and an overhaul of the country’s political system, which has been in place since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. The demonstrations turned violent amid accusations from rights groups that Iraqi security members used excessive force against protesters. On Friday, Iraq’s top Shia leader Ali al-Sistani voiced support for the protests, calling them a “tool of pressure to affect genuine reforms,” according to a mosque sermon read on his behalf in the southern city of Karbala. He said:

What matters most is that they should not be dragged into acts of violence, chaos and sabotage.

Al-Sistani said a new prime minister must be chosen without foreign interference. His comments followed reports that a senior Iranian commander had been in Baghdad this week to rally support for a new government that would continue to serve Iran’s interests. Abd’ul-Mahdi and his government are now serving in a caretaker status until a new cabinet is formed. Iraqi authorities have repeatedly accused “outlaws” of taking advantage of peaceful protests to attack demonstrators and security forces and vandalise public and private property.

Iraq Daily Roundup: 32 Killed, Activist Assassinated in Karbala
Margaret Griffis, Antiwar.com, Dec 9 2019

At least 32 people were killed, and 10 more wounded in recent violence. In Karbala, a gunman on a motorcycle shot and killed an activist, Fahem Abu Ali Al-Tae’ie, who is associated with Moqtada al-Sadr’s movement. A bomb wounded a professor who organized protest committees. Authorities in Nasariya say that 25 people were killed during Thursday’s protests, prompting the local tribes to take over security concerns. Protesters returned to Baghdad and several southern cities on Sunday, the first day of the working week, despite the violence that occurred on Friday. In Najaf, an armed drone attacked the home of Muqtada al-Sadr on Saturday. Only an outer wall was reported damaged. The attack comes hours after members of Sadr’s Saraya al-Salam arrived in Baghdad, to protect the demonstrators. In Baghdad, five people were wounded during a rocket attack at the international airport which may have been targeting Pindo forces, for the third time in the past few days. Two militiamen were killed and three were wounded in an attack in Hawija. A farmer was killed during an attack in Adhaim. A bomb in Jurf al-Nasr wounded two militiamen. In Baaj, two militants were killed.

 

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