Renewed protests in south Iraq condemn crackdown, kidnapping of activist
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Dozens of Iraqis took to the streets overnight on Saturday to protest the kidnapping of a prominent activist and the wounding of another in the city of Nasiriyah, Dhi Qar province.
This marks the latest demonstration in Nasiriyah and other southern cities demanding, among others, justice for the victims of crackdowns by members of security forces and militia groups.
The movement, which began close to a year ago, has been calling for radical reforms to end what they view as endemic corruption and improve livelihoods and public services.
Much of the violence during the protests came in late 2019. Such incidents become less prevalent amid Iran-US tensions in Iraq in early 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic. But, kidnappings and targeted assassinations have continued.
The Iraqi government has conducted multiple investigations into the killings but has yet to accuse any specific entities or individuals of being behind the violence. Activists have long charged Iranian-backed militia groups of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) of being among the lead perpetrators.
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New Kidnapping, More Protests
Recently, unidentified persons kidnapped another activist going by Sajjad al-Iraqi, who is reportedly one of the most prominent demonstrators in Nasiriyah.
Witnesses told Kurdistan 24 that Sajjad was kidnapped at the northern entrance of Nasiriyah when he was with his associate Bassem Falih, who was wounded by gunfire.
Local media reported that the security forces deployed in massive numbers to the area to calm tensions after many people gathered to protest the incident.
Sajjad's fate was immediately unclear, while the online publication, Nasiriyah News Network, reported that the health condition of activist Falih is stable and that he can leave the hospital.
On Saturday night, protesters closed most of Nasiriyah's bridges. Others gathered in front of the Diwan building of the Dhi Qar provincial government after the kidnapping and threatened to escalate the situation.
Dhi Qar Police Chief Hazem al-Waeli said on his official Facebook page Saturday that the security forces were making "all efforts" to uncover the kidnappers of Sajjad. He also called for restraint.
Later in the day, the local Nasiriyah TV reported that Waeli expected they would free Sajjad "within hours" after police identified the location of his kidnappers. The station did not elaborate further.
Following the kidnapping, social media users and activists launched an online campaign with the hashtag "Freedom for Sajjad al-Iraqi" that quickly trended on Iraqi Twitter.
These demonstrations come as Iraq braces for the first anniversary of the October 2019 movement, which led to the ouster of the just over one-year-old government of Adil Abdul Mahdi, during whose reign the majority of the violence took place.
Along with the hundreds killed and the thousands wounded, dozens of protesters and activists remain missing.
After Abdul Mahdi's resignation, Mustafa al-Kadhimi took the helm of government and pledged to fulfill the demands of the demonstrators and honor those who were shot dead by the security forces.
He promised to reign in Iran-aligned militia groups acting independently of the federal government and has taken some measures against them, though to little apparent effect.
In a recorded speech broadcast on Saturday, Kadhimi said that his government has decided to erect "Tishreen Monument" in Baghdad's Tahrir Square—the central hub of demonstrations since last year—and the Martyrs' Monument in Nasiriyah.