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The New Arab

Iraqi security forces attack protesters in Baghdad, Karbala

Protests continued in various cities in Iraq [Getty]

Date of publication: 13 January, 2020

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Iraqi security forces have tried to violently disperse protesters in the capital Baghdad and the Shia holy city of Karbala, where protesters set fire to a pro-Iran militia’s headquarters.

Iraqi security forces have attacked and dispersed protesters at two squares in Baghdad and Karbala on Sunday and Monday.

Iraqi activists told The New Arab’s Arabic-language service that riot police attempted to disperse students holding a sit-in outside the ministry of higher education on Sunday, using tear-gas and bullets and injuring protesters.

The students were protesting against a ministry decision ordering them to return to their classes and threatening them with punishment if they didn't return.

Students have participated in the Iraqi anti-corruption protests since they began in October.

The anti-regime demonstrations had been overshadowed recently by spiralling tensions between the US and Iran, which led each country to carry out strikes against the other's assets in Iraq at the beginning of this month.

Protesters are angry about high rates of corruption, unemployment and poverty in Iraq as well as the sectarian-based system of government.


The activists added that riot police arrested students after chasing them down streets near the ministry.

Dozens of students returned on Monday morning to protest outside the ministry, with some students also heading to Baghdad's main protest site in Tahrir Square.

In the Shia sacred city of Karbala, security forces tried to violently disperse a protest outside the local government headquarters.

Read also: Iraq warns of collapse if Trump blocks oil cash

Local sources said that the protesters stormed the headquarters of the pro-Iran Badr Organisation and set fire to it, in response to the militia helping security forces to suppress protests.

Media sources added that militias were setting up a new force, to be called the "Popular Committees Brigade" to help security forces suppress protests.

Pro-Iran militias - notably those which make up the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) – gained influence after the Islamic State group 2014 takeover of north-central Iraq.

The PMF remain a powerful force after the militia's 2017 defeat in Iraq, operating outside state control.

Iraqi security sources have confirmed that militia members have killed protesters and demonstrations have been held outside paramilitary headquarters in the past.

The "Popular Committees Brigades" were formed in response to what they called "the constant violation of the sanctity of Karbala" by protesters.

They are to be deployed in the city when arrangements are finalised with security forces and tribal leaders.

Protests also took place in the cities of Najaf, Al-Kut, and Basra in central and southern Iraq.

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