Members of the Saraya al-Salam brigades during clashes with the Iraqi security forces near the Green Zone, in Baghdad, Iraq 30 August, 2022. (Photo credit: REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani)
Violence erupted in southern Iraq in the early hours of 4 October, as over a dozen Katyusha rockets were launched on the headquarters of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) in the city of Basra.
Local sources say the Saraya al-Salam brigades were behind the attack, as they allegedly sought revenge for the killing of one of their members by the Asaib Ahl al-Haq – a militia belonging to the PMU.
At 0230 hours Saraya Al Salam targeted the PMU HQ and the surrounding area in #Basra south #Iraq with 16 Katyusha rockets, mortars and gunfire last night. Clashes ended around 0530 hours, casualties and damage remains unknown. pic.twitter.com/M9vR884xYZ
— Iraqi Day 🇮🇶 (@iraqi_day) October 4, 2022
According to the PMU, their forces repelled the attack, killing at least 12 of the assailants.
Saraya al-Salam is the military wing of the Sadrist movement, led by disgraced Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The armed group made headlines in August for leading violent clashes against security forces in Baghdad, which left dozens dead and hundreds injured.
Mere hours before Tuesday’s attack in Basra, protesters in the city of Nasiriyah in the southern Dhi Qar province set fire to the local government headquarters by throwing Molotov cocktails at it.
DhiQar province Iraq updates: The Dhi Qar police chief ordered a curfew and the arrest of the masked groups that tried to burn government departments.
Security delegation headed by the Army Chief of Staff and the Deputy of Joint Operations command arrived to Dhi Qar Governorate. pic.twitter.com/L5DnCMMDLV
— Iraqi Qahwa كهوة عراقية (@IraqiQahwa) October 4, 2022
This was followed by clashes between the protesters and security forces. Local authorities imposed a curfew in response to the violence and ordered the arrest of the leaders of the armed groups.
“Security forces are making great efforts to guarantee protection for peaceful demonstrators demanding their legitimate rights, but there are saboteurs and outlaws that are infiltrating the protests, as happened in Dhi Qar province,” a statement released by the Security Media Cell reads.
تبذل القوات الأمنية جهوداً كبيرة لتأمين الحماية للمتظاهرين السلميين المطالبين بحقوقهم المشروعة، الا ان هناك عناصر مخربة خارجة عن القانون تندس وسط جموع المتظاهرين، كما حصل في محافظة ذي قار.
حيث أقدمت عناصر ضالة على حرق كرفانات تابعة لمبنى مجلس المحافظة pic.twitter.com/D81HGlMf4j
— خلية الإعلام الأمني🇮🇶 (@SecMedCell) October 4, 2022
Iraq has been mired in a political crisis since last October’s elections, when the Sadrist bloc took home a resounding victory, leaving PMU-affiliated parties in the dust.
However, in the intervening months, Sadr failed to achieve his goal of forming a “majority government” that excluded other Shia parties – which came together as the Coordination Framework (CF) – despite forging close ties with the Sunni and Kurdish blocs.
Sadr’s multiple failures eventually led him to withdraw all of his lawmakers from parliament and to fuel discontent among his large base of supporters, instructing them to take over government buildings to demand the dissolution of parliament and a new round of elections.
Following August’s violence in Baghdad’s Green Zone district, and after losing the support of a major Shia scholar, Sadr was forced to announce his “final retirement” from politics – marking his second retirement of 2022 and ninth overall.
Regardless of this, Sadrist groups attempted to storm the Iraqi parliament just last week, hoping to stop a session to discuss the proposed resignation of Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi, a former ally of Sadr.
Moreover, last month the head of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Qais al-Khazali, announced that the CF agreed to hold early elections in a show of good faith to the Sadrists.