Najaf activists say intimidated, threatened by pro-Sadr militias
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Militia forces affiliated with Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr raided a number of activists’ houses in Iraq’s Najaf province on Saturday night, activists told Rudaw English. The raids came a day after a group of activists chanted slogans criticizing the cleric on the one year anniversary of the killing of tens of people by Sadr supporters.
Activists on Friday held a ceremony to mark the one year anniversary of a massacre in Najaf’s Sadrayn square where Sadr supporters known as the “Blue Caps” stormed an anti-government protest camp. Twenty-three people were killed and more than 182 wounded, according to AFP.
Live rounds and petrol bombs were used against protesters during clashes, and their tents were burned or removed. Days later, Sadr announced the dissolution of the “Blue Caps” militia.
Video from the anniversary ceremony on Friday showed dozens of people gathered in the Writers Union Hall in Najaf, chanting slogans against the Sadrist movement and its leader. “No god but Allah. Muqtada is the enemy of Allah,” they shouted in clips that went viral on social media.
The day after the ceremony, forces from the pro-Sadr Saraya al-Salam (the Peace Brigades) militia stormed the homes of four activists, terrorizing them and their families, according to Najaf activist Saif al-Mansoori.
Speaking to Rudaw English on Saturday, Mansoori said they are being threatened by people who are active on the political scene. “Freedom of expression is guaranteed in the constitution, but the one who threatens the activists because they try to express their views freely, is participating in elections that are part of the democratic process.”
Activist Wissam al-Kinani announced on his Facebook page that his house was raided by the same forces. “Ten back-up cars of Saraya al-Salam forces raided to my house and terrified my family,” he wrote.
Sadr’s spokesperson, Saleh Muhammad al-Iraqi, said in a statement posted on Twitter that the anti-Sadr statements uttered in the Writers Union Hall on Friday do not represent the people of Najaf.
“These slogans were issued by a group of Baathists and Daesh (Islamic State) members, or people imitating the West and loving the Zionist enemy,” Iraqi said.
He directed Sadr followers not to demonstrate in front of the union building, saying, “We will act in other social and legal ways, and we will make those people an example for all.”
Sadr directed his security official to “protect” the union building.
The administrative body of the Writers Union in Najaf issued a statement on Saturday stating they had no connection with the event that took place in their building. “We condemn the actions of some unruly people who infiltrated the Union Hall and chanted uncontrolled slogans against Mr. Muqtada al-Sadr and national figures,” it stated.
Another activist, however, said the chants in the Union Hall are a small reflection of the people’s anger toward the political class, of which Muqtada al-Sadr is part. “Since the start of the demonstrations, the protesters were called traitors, sons of embassies, Baathist, but this time Sadr called us ISIS, and this is new, but it is not surprising,” Hussein al-Kaabi told Rudaw English from Najaf.
Sadr has been a vocal supporter of reform and anti-corruption campaigns for years. When anti-government protests broke out in October 2019, he sent members of his Saraya al-Salam militia to protect the demonstrators. But Sadr changed his position and by February, his militias were involved in suppression of the protests.
At least 600 protesters and members of the security forces were killed and more than 18,000 injured since the protest movement emerged, Amnesty International said in January 2020.