Stabbings in Baghdad square raise fears among protesters
BAGHDAD — At least 13 people were stabbed Thursday in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, the epicenter of Iraq’s protest movement, security and medical officials said, stoking fears of infiltration by unknown groups among anti-government demonstrators.
Parliament met Thursday to amend laws governing compensation to include victims of security operations and to vote on changes to the structure of Iraq’s electoral commission, the body that oversees polls across the country, according to two lawmakers in attendance.
More than a dozen protesters were attacked with knives by late afternoon, as demonstrators supportive of political parties and Iran-backed militias withdrew from Tahrir, three anti-government protesters and a witness said. There were no fatalities.
The protesters aligned with parties had marched to Tahrir earlier that day, mostly young men clad in black and waving Iraqi flags. They chanted positive slogans in deference to Grand Ayatollah Ali alSistani, Iraq’s most powerful Shiite cleric, and stood conspicuous against the usual crowds of Tahrir protesters.
Al-Sistani has sided with protesters, calling for serious electoral reforms and recently withdrew support for the government of Adil Abdul-Mahdi, prompting his resignation.
At least 400 have died since the leaderless uprising shook Iraq on Oct. 1, with thousands of Iraqis taking to the streets in Baghdad and the predominantly Shiite southern Iraq decrying corruption, poor services, lack of jobs and calling for an end to the political system imposed after the 2003 U.S. invasion.
Security forces dispersed crowds with live fire, tear gas and sonic bombs, leading to fatalities.
“The parties and militias agreed to bring people to Tahrir under the pretext of maintaining peaceful demonstrations,” said Mustafa, a demonstrator who requested anonymity fearing reprisal.
Around 2:30 p.m., the new group of protesters withdrew and left the square. Immediately after, over a dozen people were stabbed, the officials said. Demonstrators camped in the square said the number was higher.
The injured were treated inside makeshift medical centers in the square, and four with serious wounds were taken to al-Kindi hospital, in east Baghdad, medical officials said.
A police official said six individuals were taken into custody after the attacks.
It was not clear who, if anyone from the withdrawing group of protesters, was responsible for the attacks; all wore plain clothes making their affiliations visibly unclear. The perpetrators had blended into the crowds of protesters who have effectively taken up residence in the sprawling plaza, two protesters and a security official said.
But the incident has fueled paranoia among protesters, convinced that members of Iran-backed militia groups disguised as demonstrators are to blame for the violence.
“They hate the demonstrators and most withdrew. Those who stayed attacked the peaceful protesters in Tahrir,” said a protester who requested anonymity, fearing reprisal from the authorities.
“They were strangers, those who did this,” the protester said.
Hundreds march Thursday, chanting religious slogans in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square.