Iraqi students flood streets of Najaf in show of resilience against Sadr supporters

Iraqi students flood streets of Najaf in show of resilience against Sadr supporters
Iraqi students flood streets of Najaf in show of resilience against Sadr supporters

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Iraqi students defied populist cleric Muqtada Al Sadr’s calls to end demonstrations and flooded the streets of Baghdad and southern provinces on Sunday.

Anti-government protests started in October over widespread government corruption, lack of public services and unemployment.

They quickly grew into calls for sweeping changes to Iraq’s political system that was imposed after the 2003 US invasion. Iraqi security forces have responded harshly.

More than 500 protesters have been killed since the unrest began and tens of thousands injured.

In Najaf, protesters chanted against Mr Al Sadr, after his supporters killed eight demonstrators on Wednesday in attacks on protest camps.

“There is no God but God...Sadr is the enemy of God,” protesters chanted in the holy city. “Muqtada Al Sadr is a killer,” they said.

Last week, the populist cleric called on his supporters to ensure the reopening of schools, roads and government offices that had been shut by months of demonstrations.

The “Persistence is harder than exams” and "Down with filthy Muqtada" began trending on Twitter.

"Our responsibility is to persist for the sake of every blood that has fallen," said Ali Emad on social media.

Mr Al Sadr has shown great support for the protest movements in Iraq, mobilising the public to come out and demonstrate.

But since last week, demonstrators said they faced a new threat from supporters of Mr Al Sadr, who initially backed the protest movement but then threw his support behind the nomination of Mohammed Allawi as Iraq's new prime minister-designate last weekend.

The often contradictory orders have exacerbated existing tensions between anti-government demonstrators and his followers, with some activists claiming Mr Al Sadr's followers had threatened them to toe the cleric's line or leave protest sites.

The resilience shown by the younger generations has made it clear that protests are a force to be reckoned with, Sajad Jiyad, managing director of Al Bayan Center, an independent think tank based in Baghdad

“Ignoring them or attempting to crush them will only have greater repercussions. Much solidarity with them across Iraq,” Mr Jiyad said.

The unity among protesters "cuts across the so-called 'sectarian divide' and 'class boundaries' as the post-2003 generations from all backgrounds are widely expressing their objections to the ruling system," the expert said.

Most of the protesters reject Mr Allawi's nomination and say he is too close to the political elite they have been demonstrating against for months.

The prime minister designate has until March 2 to form a new cabinet and put it to the parliament for a vote of confidence.

Mr Al Sadr's political aide, Kadhem Issawi, insisted the new cabinet must not include members of the political elite - particularly Shiite military groups like the Hashed Al Shaabi, which rivals Mr Al Sadr.

"If Sayyed (Lord) Muqtada hears that Allawi has granted a ministry to any side, specifically the Shiite armed factions, Iraq will turn into hell for him and will topple him in just three days," Mr Issawi told a gathering including late on Saturday.

Updated: February 9, 2020 08:04 PM

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