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Iraqi security forces raided Baghdads main protest site on Saturday and tried to eject protesters in southern cities, firing tear gas and bullets killing four people and wounding dozens more, police and medical sources said.
The new push to end the sit-ins and restore order came hours after populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who counts millions of supporters in Baghdad and the south, said he would halt his involvement in anti-government unrest.
Sadrs supporters, who had bolstered the anti-government protesters and sometimes played a role in protecting them from attacks by security forces and unidentified gunmen, began withdrawing from sit-ins early on Saturday after Sadrs announcement.
Clashes then took place after authorities began removing concrete barriers near Tahrir Square where anti-government demonstrators have camped out for months, and across at least one main bridge over the Tigris River in the capital, Reuters reporters said.
Major crackdown on protestors in Iraq underway. Muqtada al-Sadrs support was critical but it was withdrawn after he struck a deal with the government & Irans proxies – they have carte blanche to neutralise the protestors. Huge boost for Iran & its allies pic.twitter.com/9IEP4TxEOP
— Ranj Alaaldin (@RanjAlaaldin) January 25, 2020
In the southern city of Basra, security forces raided the main anti-government sit-in overnight and deployed in force to stop protesters gathering there again, security sources said. Police arrested at least 16 protesters in the city, they said.
In Baghdad, at least one person was killed and more than 30 injured in clashes between police and protesters near Tahrir Square. Another three died and 14 were wounded in the southern city of Nassiriya when security forces took control of a bridge occupied for days by demonstrators, security sources and medics said.
Iraqs security forces have used tear gas and live ammunition against mostly peaceful protesters since anti-government unrest broke out in Baghdad on Oct. 1. More than 450 people have died in the violence, according to a Reuters tally from police and medics.
Months of demonstrations
The demonstrators demand the removal of what they see as a corrupt Iraqi ruling elite and the end of interference in politics by foreign powers, especially Iran which has come to dominate state institutions since the toppling of Saddam Hussein in a 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
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