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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 January 2021

Deadly clashes in southern Iraq between protesters and security forces

Activists, lawyers and journalists are facing threats and violence

Deadly clashes erupted between Iraqi security forces and anti-government protesters on Sunday in the southern city of Nasiriyah following the death of two activists and a policeman.

The protests started last Friday after security forces arrested an activist in the city’s Haboubi Square.

Footage showed protesters running and chanting while security forces confronted them with teargas and gunshots, leaving dozens injured.

"One policeman was killed and 33 others were injured during the events that took place today, Sunday, in the city of Nasiriyah, Dhi Qar Governorate," the country's security forces said.

Two civilians were killed during the past 48 hours, the Iraqi High Commission of Human Rights, told The National.

“People have been assaulted, nearly 40 are injured. Security forces have arrested more than 30 and two activists have been killed,” Ali Al Bayati, a member of the Commission, said.

One of them was Haider Ali, an activist and nurse, who was abducted three days ago.

“Last night Haider’s body was found and was dismembered, we are still waiting for the final results of the security institutions,” Mr Al Bayati said.

The second man, Ali Al Hamami, a senior lawyer and activist was killed in Nasiriyah on Friday after unknown assailants broke into his home.

“Ali died of suffocation after being gagged with tape and his house was robbed,” Dhi Qar Bar Association said.

The Human Rights Commission said the government must deal directly with representatives of Nasiryah’s community to ensure that protesters' demands are met.

“The government must acknowledge community leaders such as religious, tribal, social and civil actors to get political agendas,” Mr Al Bayati said.

“We will have an early election in the next few months so it’s important to stabilise the city as the instability in Nasiriyah will be seen in other provinces.”

The commission requested Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi to visit the city and follow up on security measures, and ensure that Nasiryah’s economic, social and infrastructure sectors are “secure”.

Mr Al Kadhimi has called for early polls to take place in June 2021, nearly a year before schedule, to fulfil a key demand of the protest movement that erupted late 2019.

Nasiriyah was a major hub for the anti-government protest movement. It was also the site of one of the bloodiest incidents of the uprising, where on November 28 more than three dozen died in protest-related violence.

“We are fed up, no one is listening to us, no matter what we do and say we feel that it won’t change the system,” an activist from the southern city told The National.

“We will not let the protesters die in vain,” he said.

The deadly clashes came on the anniversary of the killing of prominent journalist Ahmed Abdul Samad and his cameraman Safa Ghali in Basra.

The two men were shot dead on their way home after covering the protest movement in the southern city. They were documenting the arrests of activists.

Since October 2019, Iraq has been rocked by anti-government protests that blame the political elite of corruption and failing to provide basic public services and employment.

Hundreds of people have been killed since the protests started and tens of thousands injured because of the government's violent response.

Many Iraqis languish in poverty without jobs, health care or education and the government has done little to address the demands of protesters.

Updated: January 11, 2021 03:21 PM

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