Thousands protest in Iraq’s Nasiriyah as death toll from clashes rises

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Thousands flooded Iraq’s southern hotspot of Nasiriyah on Monday as a resident died from wounds sustained in clashes last week between anti-government protesters and supporters of Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Ridha al-Rikaby was hit in the head by a bullet on Friday when followers of al-Sadr clashed with young demonstrators in Nasiriyah’s Habboubi Square, medics told AFP.

He died on Monday, bringing the toll from the day of violence to eight dead and several dozen wounded, and thousands took to the streets in a funeral march, an AFP correspondent said

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After last week’s clashes, authorities imposed a lockdown to try to stem further rallies in the southern city, sacked the provincial police chief and launched an investigation into the events.

Iraqi premier Mustafa al-Kadhemi dispatched National Security Advisor Qasem al-Arakji and other senior officials to Nasiriyah on Monday for talks with protesters.

But anger simmered in Nasiriyah.

“Once again, peaceful protesters are dying under the government’s nose, and the security forces can’t hold the killers accountable,” a demonstrator told AFP.

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Nasiriyah was a major hub for the protest movement that erupted in October 2019 against a government seen by demonstrators as corrupt, inept and beholden to neighboring Iran.

Nearly 600 people died across Iraq in protest-related violence during those rallies, including trauma wounds sustained by tear gas canisters, but there has been virtually no accountability for those deaths.

Last week’s violence coincided with the one-year anniversary of one of the bloodiest incidents of the 2019 uprising, when more than three dozen people died at Nasiriyah’s Zeitun (Olive) Bridge on November 28.