Turkish Restaurant building in Baghdad on February 1, 2020. (NRT Digital Media)
SULAIMANI — Forces loyal to Shia cleric and political leader Moqtada al-Sadr took control of the Turkish Restaurant building on Tahrir Square in Baghdad on Saturday (February 1), wresting the iconic protest site from unaligned anti-government demonstrators.
A source told NRT Digital Media that a large number of members of Sadrist militia Saraya Al-Salam stormed the building by force and took control of a platform that protesters had been using to broadcast official messages.
The move appeared to be in anticipation of the announcement by the parties of the nomination of a prime ministerial candidate. President Barham Salih had set a deadline of Saturday evening for the parties to make a pick that was acceptable to all, including the protesters.
During the attack the members of the militia used batons to force the other protesters from the building, which overlooks Tahrir Square. By taking the Turkish Restaurant, Sadr may be trying to make it appear that the demonstrators support the parties’ choice.
A week ago, Sadr withdrew his support for the protests, calling on his followers to leave the square. In their absence, the security forces attacked several protest sites in Baghdad and the southern provinces, burning tents and arresting demonstrators.
On Friday, Sadr appeared to again throw his support behind the protests in a message posted on Twitter.
The protesters have strongly rejected the Iraqi political establishment, of which Sadr is a part, instead calling for independent leadership and new elections.
Approximately 500 people have died in the demonstrations since October 1, the vast majority of whom were unarmed protesters.
(NRT Digital Media)