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The New Arab Staff

Iraq militia raids activists' houses in Najaf

The October 2019 protests saw many demonstrate over dissatisfaction with the country's political elite [Getty]

Date of publication: 8 February, 2021

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Militia forces attacked houses in Iraq’s Najaf province on Saturday night, after a group of activists chanted slogans against Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
Militia forces affiliated with Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr raided four activists' houses in Iraq's Najaf province on Saturday night, the day after a group of activists chanted slogans criticising the cleric.

On Friday, activists in Najaf held a ceremony in the Writers Union Hall to mark the one year anniversary of a massacre in Najaf's Sadrayn square, according to Rudaw English.

On February 5, 2020, anti-government demonstrations in Iraq turned into violent confrontations in Najaf, with 23 people killed and 182 wounded by militia forces close to the government, according to the Iraqi Centre for Documenting War Crimes.

Called the 'Blue Hats', they are supporters of Sadr, who had announced the dissolution of the militia a few days after the clashes.

That day, they were called in to forcibly remove the demonstrators in assistance to the security forces in clearing roads and ensuring the reopening of schools and businesses after months of protests.

They used petrol bombs, burning the protesters' tents and shooting, according to witnesses.

Videos from the anniversary ceremony on Friday showed dozens of people gathered in the Writers Union Hall in Najaf, chanting slogans against the Sadrist movement and its leader, as "No god but Allah. Muqtada is the enemy of Allah".

Forces from the pro-Sadr 'Peace Brigades' militia stormed the homes of four activists, terrorising them and their families, according to Najaf activist Saif al-Mansoori.

"Freedom of expression is guaranteed in the constitution, but the one who threatens the activists because they try to express their views freely, is participating in elections that are part of the democratic process," Mansoori told Rudaw.

Sadr was once a vocal supporter of reform and anti-corruption campaigns, even sending members of the 'Peace Brigades' when anti-government protests broke out in October 2019 to protect the demonstrators.

But the Shia cleric ended up changing his position and in February 2020, his 'Blue Hats' militia attacked various demonstrations and sit-ins in the largest Iraqi cities that were directed against Prime Minister Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi’s mandate to form a government backed by the Sadrist movement, an Iraqi Islamic national movement led by Sadr.

His appointment was met with a popular uproar among Iraqi protesters, who perceived his affiliation with the same problems at the origin of the October 2019 protest, such as dissatisfaction with the country's political elite's mismanagement of the Iraq's economy and multiple catastrophic security issues like the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and systemic corruption.

In the four months since Allawi's nomination as prime minister, over 600 protestors died, and he ended up withdrawing his candidacy on March 1, 2020, after the Iraqi parliament failed twice in a week to approve his cabinet.

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