Stab­bings in Baghdad square raise fears among pro­test­ers

Orlando Sentinel - - NATION & WORLD - By Samya Kul­lab and Mur­tada Faraj

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.

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