BAGHDAD – Influential Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr announced on Tuesday that he was disbanding a militia of his supporters, known as the Blue Hats, who had attacked anti-government protesters, adding that the protests have gotten back to their roots.
“I announce the dissolution of the Blue Hats,” Al-Sadr said in a Twitter post days after the militia reached agreements with the protesters to withdraw from the epicenters of the protests.
The religious leader made his decision to disband the militia because “the revolution gradually got back to its original path despite some breaches by vandals and violence advocates,” he said.
The militia was created by Al-Sadr when the anti-government protests first erupted on Oct. 1, 2019, to provide protection for protesters from sectarian groups and other militias.
The cleric, however, withdrew his support for the anti-government protests last month after a US airstrike killed Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force.
He called for a demonstration in late January to demand the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, but Al-Sadr’s followers accused the protesters of attacking them and boycotting the religious leader’s call.
Al-Sadr then urged the Blue Hats to help security forces restore calm on the streets of Iraq.
Since they were deployed, Al-Sadr’s militias have clashed with protesters, especially in the city of Najaf where at least seven people have been killed and dozens injured.
Regarding the Najaf incidents, Al-Sadr said he is “still waiting for the outcome of the investigation into the accident at Al-Sadrain Square” before reacting to it.
A group of “infiltrators” attacked protesters with Molotov cocktails in Najaf’s Al-Sadrain Square on Feb. 5, killing seven people in injuring 67, a security source told Efe at the time.
Protesters and members of Al-Sadr’s forces both were present in the square on that occasion.
Prior to the incident, Al-Sadr militia members had attacked people participating in the Baghdad protests and at other spots in southern Iraq with sticks and sharp objects, injuring several people.
Regarding the political aspect of the situation, Al-Sadr said: “We hear about political and sectarian pressures to form the temporary government (…) that could prompt us to disavow it.”
Iraqi President Barham Saleh nominated Mohamed Tawfiq Allawi to be prime minister, after two months of political deadlock.
Allawi was appointed to replace former Premier Adel Abdel Mahdi, who resigned in November bowing to the pressure of the protests.
Al-Sadr hailed the appointment of Allawi and promised to support him.
At least 544 people have been killed and more than 27,000 injured in the clashes that have taken place since the start of the anti-government protests, according to the Iraqi Human Rights Commission, most of the casualties occurring at the hands of the security forces.
Among the injured were 17 security personnel and 3,525 protesters, according to Ali al-Bayati, a member of the commission.