NAJAF: Young Iraqi protesters pushed on with anti-government rallies across the country on Thursday as they buried seven fellow activists killed overnight in violence blamed on supporters of Moqtada Sadr.
Sadr had backed the rallies demanding the ouster of the entire political class when they erupted in October but has since then changed course.
In supporting ex-minister Mohammad Allawi as Iraq’s new premier, Sadr split with the rest of the popular movement, and his diehard followers have turned on rival protesters.
Late on Wednesday, Sadrists raided a protest camp in Iraq’s shrine city of Najaf where demonstrators had been chanting against Allawi.
Seven anti-government protesters were killed by bullets to the head or chest, medics in the city said, and dozens more were wounded.
On Thursday morning, the dead were wrapped in white shrouds and carefully laid in coffins draped with Iraqi flags, then carried in a funeral march through the city.
Young Iraqis, sobbing, grasped at the coffins as they were carried past.
Despite the bloodshed, Iraqis gathered for renewed rallies, with hundreds of students flooding Baghdad’s Tahrir Square.
“Whether ten or 100 die, I won’t abandon this cause!” they chanted, as a girl stood silently nearby with a banner that read, “Our martyrs are our candidates”.
High school student Tayba walked into Tahrir alone, an Iraqi flag tied around her shoulders.
“We’ve finally got used to it,” she said somberly, of the violence in Najaf.
“In fact, we’re even more determined. Before, the students used to hold just one demonstration a week, now there are three.”
Nearly 490 people have been killed and 30,000 wounded since October. — AFP