Pro-paramilitary demonstrators flood Iraqi protest camp

Iraqi supporters of the Hashed Al-shaabi armed network, carry pictures of fighters killed in fighting against jihadists, as they demonstrate in the capital Baghdad's Tahrir Square on December 5, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 05 December 2019

Pro-paramilitary demonstrators flood Iraqi protest camp

  • The men arrived in Tahrir (Liberation) Square in apparently coordinated marches from different parts of the capital

BAGHDAD: Anti-government protesters say at least 15 people have suffered stab wounds in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, the epicenter of their movement, after political parties and Iran-backed militia groups briefly joined them, raising fears of infiltration by authorities.
Lawmakers convened a parliament session Thursday to amend laws governing compensation to include victims of military operations, according to the session agenda seen by The Associated Press.
There were over a dozen knife attacks by the late afternoon when protesters aligned with political parties and Iran-backed militias withdrew from Tahrir, three demonstrators and a witness said. There were no fatalities.
Another protester who requested anonymity said the attacks, “might have been perpetrated by the parties or someone who wants to ignite problems with the parties.”

Several thousand men backing a paramilitary force close to Iran flooded the Iraqi capital’s main protest camp on Thursday, worrying anti-government demonstrators who have denounced Tehran’s role in their country.
The men arrived in Tahrir Square in apparently coordinated marches from different parts of the capital, waving sticks, Iraqi flags and the logo of the Hashed Al-Shaabi armed network.
Some carried portraits of Hashed fighters killed in fighting against extremists as well as pictures of the country’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.
The Hashed had backed the Iraqi government but after a dramatic intervention by Sistani last week, it dropped its support. The embattled prime minister, Adel Abdel Mahdi, resigned at the weekend.
Many units within the Shiite-majority force have been trained or equipped by Iran.
The demonstrators occupying the square for weeks have explicitly criticized Iran for backing an Iraqi political elite they see as corrupt and inept.
They have insisted that all current figures in power are tainted with graft and have been wary of political parties seeking to coopt the youth-dominated movement.
The new arrivals on Thursday mixed in with thousands of other protesters in the square, who appeared worried although no confrontation or skirmishes took place.
“They’ve ruined it,” one protester said, as another muttered, “It’s going to get messy.”
Mass rallies have rocked the capital and Shiite-majority south since early October, first denouncing government graft and a lack of jobs before moving to broader demands for deep-rooted regime change.
Nearly 430 people have been killed and 20,000 wounded since demonstrations erupted, according to an AFP toll compiled from medics, police and a national commission.
The victims’ families have been demanding justice for their loved ones, and many of them hit the streets of Iraq’s southern Diwaniyah on Thursday.
They joined thousands of other protesters, mostly teachers and students taking part in a general strike, AFP’s correspondent said.
“The authorities are putting off the issue of who killed our sons and brothers in the protests,” said Assaad Malek, whose brother died in protest-related violence.
“They should take a tough stance and severely punish the officers and SWAT forces who killed my brother,” he added.
A verdict for security force members accused of violence against protesters in Diwaniyah was scheduled for Thursday, but the session was indefinitely postponed.
In the southern hotspot of Nasiriyah, hundreds hit the main protest camp in the city center, joined by delegations from the province’s powerful tribes.
Tribal dignitaries intervened last week to tamp down tensions between protesters and security forces after more than two dozen people were killed in a bloody crackdown.


Security forces keep radical protesters away from French Embassy in Beirut

Updated 4 min 37 sec ago

Security forces keep radical protesters away from French Embassy in Beirut

  • Calls for a demonstration by radical Islamic groups spread on social media platforms
  • Security forces had anticipated Friday’s protest and tightened security in the heart of Beirut

BEIRUT: Lebanese security forces prevented the arrival of hundreds of protesters at the French ambassador’s residence and the French Embassy in Lebanon on Friday.

They feared the recurrence of riots similar to the ones that erupted in front of the Danish Embassy in Ashrafieh, Beirut, in 2006, and led to 28 people being injured, damage to storefronts, and the burning of the consulate building and terrorizing of people.

A few hundred worshippers left mosques after Friday prayers and marched to defend the Prophet Muhammad.

Calls for a demonstration by radical Islamic groups spread on social media platforms.

Khaldoun Qawwas, Dar Al-Fatwa’s media spokesperson, told Arab News: “These groups have nothing to do with Dar Al-Fatwa, which has already announced its position regarding what happened in France in two separate statements.”

Sheikh Abdul Latif Deryan, the grand mufti of Lebanon, in a statement issued a week earlier, said that “freedom of opinion and expression does not entail insulting the beliefs and symbols of others, and this requires a reconsideration of the concept of absolute freedom.”

He stressed the “renunciation of violence and confrontation of radicalism and terrorism that has no religion or race.”

Security forces had anticipated Friday’s protest and tightened security in the heart of Beirut, since the embassy and the French ambassador’s residence are located where roads leading to the city’s western and eastern neighborhoods intersect. This led to a huge traffic jam in the capital.

The protest’s starting point was the Gamal Abdel Nasser Mosque in Al-Mazraa, situated only a few kilometers from the Residence des Pins (Pine Residence).

Three major security checkpoints — one set up by the riot police — separated the Residence des Pins and protesters, some of whom were transported by buses from the north of Lebanon to Beirut.

Protesters held Islamic signs and chanted slogans denouncing France, its President Emmanuel Macron and its former colonization of the country. Some protesters tried to remove barbed wire and threw stones, water bottles and batons at the security forces. Another group burned the French flag. Security forces responded by throwing tear gas canisters, leading to the retreat of the protesters.

In a statement, Lebanon’s Supreme Council of the Roman Catholic condemned “the terrorist attack in the French city of Nice.”

The council considered that “this terrorist crime has nothing to do with Islam and Muslims. It is an individual act carried out by terrorists haunted by radicalism, obscurantism and the rejection of the French people’s historical civilizational values. Through their acts, they abuse the spirit of tolerance, coexistence, acceptance of the other and the freedom of thought and belief which all religions call for.”

The council called for “staying away from defaming religions and beliefs and inciting hate and resentment among people, raising the voice of moderation, wisdom and reason, working together in the spirit of the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together announced by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb from the UAE last year.”

During the Friday sermon, Grand Jaafari Mufti Sheikh Ahmad Kabalan condemned “any criminal act against any people, including the French people.” He added: “We categorically reject what happened in Nice yesterday, strongly condemn it and consider it a blatant and insolent attack on Muslims before others.”

He simultaneously condemned “the official French position that affronted the Prophet, took lightly and made light of the feelings of millions of Muslims.”