Four shot dead in new crackdown as Sadr pulls out of Iraq protests

Anti-government protesters set fire to a busy intersection in central Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 26 January 2020

Four shot dead in new crackdown as Sadr pulls out of Iraq protests

  • Security forces move in with live fire and tear gas after populist cleric withdraws his supporters

BAGHDAD: Four Iraqi civilians were shot dead and dozens wounded when Iraqi security forces opened fire with live ammunition and tear gas on Saturday in raids on protest camps in Baghdad and the south.

The new offensive to end the protests came after populist cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr withdrew his support for the anti-government demonstrators. Sadr, who has millions of supporters, had protecting the protesters from attacks by security forces and snipers deployed by Iran-backed militias.

His supporters began withdrawing from sit-ins early on Saturday, and the security forces moved in. There were violent clashes as authorities began removing concrete barriers near Tahrir Square in Baghdad, where demonstrators have camped out for months, and across at least one main bridge over the Tigris River.

Security forces wielding batons chased a group of young protesters, and riot police set fire to large tents used as field clinics to treat wounded demonstrators.

In the southern city of Basra, security forces raided the main anti-government sit-in overnight and deployed in force to stop protesters regrouping. Police arrested at least 16.

In Baghdad, at least one person was killed and more than 30 injured in clashes between police and protesters near Tahrir Square. Another three died and 14 were wounded in the southern city of Nassiriyah, when security forces took control of a bridge occupied for days by demonstrators.

Iraq’s security forces have used tear gas and live fire against mostly peaceful protesters since anti-government unrest broke out in Baghdad on Oct. 1. More than 450 people have died in the violence.

The demonstrators are demanding the removal of Iraq’s corrupt ruling elite, the provision of functioning public services and the end of interference in politics by foreign powers, especially Iran. The initial crackdown on the demonstrators was personally directed by Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian general killed in a US drone strike at Baghdad airport on Jan. 3.

Sadr had supported the demands of protesters, but stopped short of calling all his followers to join in. Nevertheless, many did. In Basra on Saturday, protesters urged Sadr to reconsider his withdrawal of support, without which they feared attacks by security forces. 

One angry young activist in Baghdad accused Sadr of effectively giving his approval to a new crackdown. “When your people started leaving, the riot police came at 3 a.m. and took the whole Ahrar Bridge. Why?” he said.

Pope Francis and Iraqi President Barham Salih agreed after talks at the Vatican on Saturday that Iraq’s sovereignty must be respected. The president also met the Vatican’s two top diplomats, Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Archbishop Paul Gallagher, its Foreign Minister.

The talks “focused on the challenges the country currently faces and on the importance of promoting stability and the reconstruction process, encouraging the path of dialogue and the search for suitable solutions in favor of citizens and with respect for national sovereignty,” a Vatican statement said.


Arab world mourns death of Kuwait’s emir

Updated 19 min 36 sec ago

Arab world mourns death of Kuwait’s emir

  • Kuwait says goodbye to “Emir of Humanity”
  • Sheikh Sabah has been succeeded as emir by his brother

The Gulf states and the wider Middle East mourned the death on Tuesday of the emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah.
Sheikh Sabah, who was 91, had ruled Kuwait since 2006, and steered its foreign policy for more than 50 years. He died in the US, where he had been in hospital since July following surgery in Kuwait.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sent their condolences to the people of Kuwait and the Al-Sabah family. (AP)

Flags flew at half staff in Kuwait, which began 40 days of mourning. “Goodbye, Emir of Humanity,” read a large banner on a street near the Kuwait stock exchange.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sent their condolences to the people of Kuwait and the Al-Sabah family.
“With the departure of Sheikh Sabah, we lose a wise leader who devoted his life to the service of his country and the Islamic and Arab nations,” said the Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan. “We console ourselves and our brothers in Kuwait for this great loss.”

Opinion

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GCC Secretary-General Dr. Nayef Falah Al-Hajraf said the world had “lost the pioneer of development, always striving for good, love and peace, aiming to strengthen harmony, cooperation and solidarity among the peoples of the world, and who spared no effort for the good of all humanity.”
Dr. Yousef bin Ahmed Al-Othaimeen, secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, said Sheikh Sabah was a voice of wisdom and moderation. “He was one of the leaders of Kuwait who worked on its prosperity and supported its stability,” he said.

Crown Prince Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah succeeds Sheikh Sabah. (AP)

Sheikh Sabah has been succeeded as emir by his brother, Crown Prince Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, 83, who will be sworn in on Wednesday.
Dahim Alqahtani, a Kuwaiti politics expert, said the emirate’s policies were unlikely to change under the new emir. “I believe Kuwait will follow Sheikh Sabah’s policies, which are based on balance and bridging differences,” he told Arab News.