Iraqi security forces raided Baghdad’s 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.
Sadr’s 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 Sadr’s 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.
Supporters of al-Sadr had begun to leave protest camps overnight after he announced he would no longer be involved in the anti-government demonstrations.
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.
Iraq’s 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.