Iraqi security forces have raided the office of an Iran-aligned party in the southern province of Basra and arrested militiamen who fired on demonstrators, killing one protester and injuring several others outside the party building.
The May 11 dawn raid on the Thaar Allah party office led to the arrest of five members of the group and the confiscation of weapons and ammunition, Basra police chief Rashid Fleih said.
The arrests for the death of the protester, the first killed since anti-government demonstrations restarted during the weekend following a brief hiatus, is a rare response by authorities to violence by security forces and militia groups that has killed at least 600 protesters.
The government said the operation was directed by new Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.
Protesters in Baghdad, Basra, and other cities in Iraq's predominately Shi'ite south restarted demonstrations on May 9, just days after Kadhimi was sworn in following a nearly six-month political crisis.
The new prime minister, Iraq’s former intelligence chief, has stretched out an olive branch to the anti-government protesters who are demanding employment, better services, and an end to rampant corruption.
The cross-sectarian protest movement has also demanded an end to Iranian meddling in Iraqi politics and an end to the post-Saddam Hussein political order.
On May 10, the judiciary ordered the release of demonstrators arrested since the protests began on October 1. The move came after Kadhimi said demonstrators should be protected and that all protesters should be released.
Kadhimi also promoted Lieutenant General Abdul Wahab al-Saadi to lead counterterrorism operations.
Saadi, who led the military’s campaign against the Islamic State extremist group, was demoted in September 2019 by former Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi. Widely considered a hero, his demotion caused outrage and sparked the protest movement.
Saadi is considered close to the United States. His demotion in 2019 has led to speculation that the move was forced upon the government by Iran-backed political factions and militia groups.