Deaths spark new protests in Nasiriyah

“The United States condemns the murder of activist and medic Haider Yaser. We share in the sorrow of the Iraqi people mourning his death. The shocking imagery of this brutal crime is horrifying,” said the US Embassy in Baghdad.
Thursday 14/01/2021
Iraqi protesters next to burning tyres during clashes with police in anti-government demonstrations in the city of Nasiriyah in the Dhi Qar province in southern Iraq on January 10, 2021. (AFP)
Iraqi protesters next to burning tyres during clashes with police in anti-government demonstrations in the city of Nasiriyah in the Dhi Qar province in southern Iraq on January 10, 2021. (AFP)

Baghdad – Violent clashes erupted between security forces and demonstrators in Nasiriyah following the death of two activists and a policeman last week. Iraqis took to the streets following the arrest of an activist in Habboubi Square, blocking the city’s main roads and burning tires to express their opposition to violations of activists by security forces and unidentified armed groups. On Saturday, angry protesters flooded Habboubi square demanding the release of activists arrested last week by security forces and unknown groups accused of being affiliated with Iran.

Many videos spread on social media platforms showing protesters running and chanting slogans against the government and corruption while security forces used force against them, leaving dozens wounded.

A witness who spoke to The Arab Weekly on condition of anonymity said army forces tried to protect protesters at Habboubi Square while the anti-riot forces did not, which put the latter on the opposite side of the army forces as they helped protesters.

He claimed that there were orders from “high level officials” in the city to use lethal force and arrest anyone that reached Habboubi Square.

On Sunday, a policeman was killed as security forces tried to disperse a third consecutive day of protests in Nasiriyah. Iraqi security forces used their power to put an end to the protests.

Ali al-Hamami, a lawyer, was one of two activists found dead in Nasiriyah’s Shatra district. The other was Haider Yaser, a young medic and activist who had previously been kidnapped by gunmen. His body was found in Al-Shuyoukh district of Dhi Qar governorate.

The crimes drew the attention of the US Embassy in Baghdad.

“The United States condemns the murder of activist and medic Haider Yaser,” the US Embassy said in a statement. “We share in the sorrow of the Iraqi people mourning his death. The shocking imagery of this brutal crime is horrifying.”

The embassy added: “We add our voice to all those calling for the perpetrators to be brought to justice and we urge Iraqi security authorities to ensure that those engaging in peaceful protest activity be allowed to do so without fear for their lives or personal safety.”

Since the start of the Tishreen movement in October 2019, many activists have been assassinated, for which blame has been directed at Iran-backed militias.

Angry protests to support demonstrators in Nasiriyah have also broken out in other provinces, including the capital Baghdad as well as Babel, Wasit, Najaf, Diwaniyah, and Maysan.

Ali al-Bayati, a member of the Iraqi High Commission said: “What has happened to the security forces is an intimidation message for everyone who wants to stand with protesters. There is a need to investigate the incidence and hold perpetrators accountable.”

“For sure, there is a violation against the law and it’s even by the same institutions among themselves, I do not think that the law allows any security institution to be arrested by another institution unless there is a court paper,” he added.

“The violation against the security forces member (is considered) a violation (against) the state’s prestige. The government should take serious action to reveal the killers of the security person who was killed in Nasiriyah and punish those who are behind the incident,” Bayati said.

Maytham Al-Dikhayli, 38, an activist and negotiator with a crisis cell in Nasiriyah, said: “Security forces and parties launched arresting campaigns against activists, that is why we took to the streets to make a pressure over the government to stop violation, abusing activists inside prisons and targeting the prominent figures in the city.”

He added: “Sairoon bloc which is headed by Muqtada al-Sadr stand behind the crackdown and blood shedding in Nasiriyah.”

“The Iraqi army became a human wall shield to protect the protesters from riot forces’ bullets,” he added.

Zayed Al-Assad, 24, a Nasiriyah-based activist said: “Three demands we are asking for now: the first is dismantling the crisis cell and (to) kick it out (of) the city and handing over the security file exclusively to the Iraqi army, second is cancelling all unjust arrest warrants against demonstrators and (to) stop pursuing them and raiding their homes, and finally is (to) put an end to the militias’ domination over the security decision in the province.”

“Sairoon bloc was behind the appointment of the new police chief, who is practicing all the abhorrent methods of arrest, torture and extracting confessions from the demonstrators by force and intimidation.” said Assad.

Dhi Qar police chief Major General Ouda al-Jabri’s office did not respond to The Arab Weekly’s request for comment.