Protesters killed in Iraq hours after U.S. sanctions Iraqi militia leaders

Cheryl Sanders
December 8, 2019

Almost 130 others were wounded by gunfire and stabbings targeting anti-government protesters at the Sinak bridge near Tahrir Square, the sources said.

The Najaf home of the Iraqi Shiite nationalist leader, Muqtada Al-Sadr, has been struck by a drone of unknown origin, according to an announcement by his Sadarist organisation.

He sent his followers into the streets after Friday's attack "to protect protesters", a Saraya source told AFP.

Thousands attended angry protests in Baghdad and southern Iraq Saturday, grieving but defiant after 20 of them were killed in an attack the previous day that demonstrators described as "slaughter". The assailants first unleashed the deadly assault on Baghdad's Khilani Square and Sinak Bridge, driving through the areas that are the epicenter of the popular uprising.

The attack included the burning of a vehicle park that demonstrators had converted into a base for their sit-in, while surrounding buildings in the square were pockmarked with bullet holes.

Schenker said the sanctions, which freeze any US assets held by the leaders and prohibit Americans from doing business with them, are "first and foremost symbolic" but also have a financial impact. Another medic who had treated wounded protesters near the building said she came back to her field clinic on Saturday morning to find all the donated medical equipment had been stolen.

The heavily armed, masked gunmen roamed the street near the square and attempted to advance onto Tahrir Square but were eventually turned around at a checkpoint manned by Iraq's security forces, witnesses said.

As night fell on Saturday, protesters feared the same scene would play out again.

The Treasury Department said in its statement that groups led by the three paramilitary leaders "opened fire on peaceful protests, killing dozens of innocent civilians".

Asked whether sanctions were created to distance the militia leaders from the process of forming a new government, one of the Treasury officials said: "The timing is quite deliberate..."

Hours earlier, Washington had imposed sanctions on three Iranian-backed paramilitary leaders who it accused of directing the killing of Iraqi protesters.

The burning of Iran's consulate in the holy city of Najaf, the seat of Iraq's Shi'ite clergy, and subsequent killings of protesters by security forces in southern cities paved the way for Sistani to withdraw his support for Abdul Mahdi.

The report came hours after the United States announced sanctions on three Iranian-linked Iraqi militia leaders for allegedly assisting the crackdown on demonstrations that have swept the country in recent months.

The Hashed initially backed Iraq's government against the protests, but switched sides after an intervention by the country's top Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.

The rallies have already brought down the prime minister, Adel Abdel Mahdi, and the heads of Iraq's main political blocs have been huddled this week to agree on a new premier.

Other reports by iNewsToday