The death toll from clashes among rival protesters in Iraq’s southern hot spot of Nasiriya rose to six, medics told the AFP news agency on Saturday, as other cities imposed security measures.
Violence erupted on Friday between the dwindling members of the October 2019 anti-government protest movement and supporters of populist Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr, who had called on his followers to take to the streets in a show of force.
In the southern city of Nasiriya, anti-government activists accused Sadrists of shooting at them and torching their tents in their main gathering place of Habboubi Square.
“Another massacre took place today … against the peaceful protesters using live ammunition. We ask the Sadrist movement and Sayyed Moqtada [al-Sadr] to stop this strife and stop their assaults against peaceful protesters,” anti-government protester Mohannad al-Mansour said.
Clashes continued into the night, with medics reporting a total of six dead by Saturday morning – five of them from bullet wounds – and at least 60 wounded.
But on Saturday morning, anti-government protesters were already back in the square to rebuild their camp, an AFP reporter said.
Authorities sacked the city’s police chief, launched an investigation into the events and imposed an overnight curfew in Nasiriya.
Other cities also introduced security measures, with Kut and Amara further north setting new movement restrictions.
Earlier on Friday, thousands of Sadrists gathered in Tahrir Square in Baghdad and in other southern provinces to show support for the influential religious leader ahead of the election scheduled for June next year.
Al-Sadr, who leads the largest bloc in Iraq’s parliament, said he expects his movement to win a majority of seats.
A longtime adversary of the United States, he also opposes Iranian influence in Iraq.