Iraqi protester Ghassan Saber says supporters of firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr do not let them “speak freely”. © FRANCE 24 screengrab
05/02/2020 – 08:31
After months of anti-government demonstrations in Iraq, protesters were united in their calls for change. But a split has now appeared between the powerful cleric Moqtada al Sadr, who supports the new prime minister, and the wider protest movement that opposes him.
Hundreds of demonstrators have been evicted from a towering Turkish restaurant, a symbol of the Baghdad protests, by al Sadr’s men.
“This place was taken by infiltrators and saboteurs who encouraged violence, and that’s why the revolution was being diverted,” said Abu Ahmed, a member of Sadr’s militia, Saraya al Salam.
The protesters deny this and accuse the Sadrists of crushing the movement to bolster the new prime minister.
The return of Sadr’s armed and violent men, recognisable by their blue caps, was seen by protesters as yet another betrayal.
Few were willing to talk out of fear of reprisals.
“They’re using sticks, they’re using knives, they don’t let us speak freely,” said Ghassan Saber, a protester, who spoke to FRANCE 24 away from the Sadrists’ watchful eyes.