NAJAF (AFP) – Seven people were shot dead on Wednesday in Iraq s shrine city of Najaf after supporters of powerful cleric Moqtada Sadr raided an anti-government protest camp, medics told AFP.
It marked the bloodiest episode yet in the escalating tensions between Sadr, a militiaman-turned-politician with a cult-like following across Iraq, and decentralised rallies that have demanded regime change since October.
Sadr had initially backed the demonstrations but split with them suddenly this weekend, endorsing Mohammad Allawi as the country s new prime minister designate.
The core protest movement sees Allawi, a 65-year-old ex-minister, as being too close to the political elite.
Tensions between the two camps have already boiled over, with Sadr supporters — typically identified by blue caps — storming squares and harassing rival demonstrators, who have taken up chants against the cleric.