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Checkpoints with ‘Blue Hats’ unarmed militia set up to protect Iraqi protesters

Published: Updated:

Iraqi security forces on Sunday set up checkpoints and manned them alongside unarmed members of a militia group linked to influential Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to protect anti-government protesters in central Baghdad, according to police.

The move comes two days after a deadly attack on protesters by unknown gunmen.

The militia group, Saraya Salam or Peace Brigades, is linked to al-Sadr.

They have been present in the epicenter of recent protests, Tahrir Square, where they offered protection to hundreds of peaceful demonstrators.

They are also known as “the blue hats,” a reference to the hats they are wearing.

At least 25 people, including protesters and police, were killed and 130 wounded on Friday and early Saturday, when armed men in pickup trucks stormed Khilani Square - which is adjacent to Tahrir - and shot live ammunition at demonstrators.

It was one of the bloodiest days of the leaderless uprising that engulfed Iraq on October 1, when thousands of Iraqis first took to the streets calling for sweeping political reforms and the end of Iran’s influence in Iraqi affairs.

At least 400 have died at the hands of security forces firing live ammunition and tear gas to disperse the demonstrations.