February 5, 2020 / 7:49 PM / 22 days ago

Clashes in Iraq's Najaf kill 8 after cleric's followers storm protest camp: medics

Iraqi demonstrators sit on the street near burning tires blocking a road during ongoing anti-government protests in Najaf, Iraq February 5, 2020. REUTERS/Alaa al-Marjani

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - At least eight people were killed in clashes in Iraq’s southern city of Najaf on Wednesday after supporters of populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr stormed an anti-government protest camp, medical and security sources said.

The medical sources said at least 20 more were wounded in the violence but did not provide further details.

The security sources said that supporters of Sadr, known as blue hats for the blue caps they often wear, had tried to clear the area of anti-government protesters, who in turn tried to stop them.

Fights broke out between both groups, the blue hats threw petrol bombs at protester tents and live gunfire rang out shortly afterwards, wounding and killing eight people, they said.

Iraq’s designated Prime Minister Mohammed Allawi, who was tasked last week with forming a new government, condemned the violence and called on Twitter on the outgoing cabinet which is acting in a caretaker capacity to “protect protesters”.

Sadr, who supported Allawi’s candidacy in an agreement with Iran-backed parties that dominate Iraq’s government and state institutions, has at different times both supported and abandoned Iraqi protesters who demand a removal of the entire ruling elite.

The cleric says he opposes all foreign interference in Iraq, but has aligned himself more closely with parties backed by Tehran in recent months.

He urged followers last week to help authorities bring “day to day life” back to Iraq’s streets by clearing roads blocked by sit-ins and ensuring businesses and schools can reopen after months of protests in which nearly 500 people have been killed in clashes between protesters and security forces.

Sadr has also urged the blue hats to allow protests to continue.

Reporting by John Davison in Baghdad, Ali Hafthi in Hilla, Editing by William Maclean

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