An armed drone targeted the home of Iraqi cleric Moqtada Al Sadr on Saturday, hours after his supporters gathered in Baghdad in response to a bloody night of attacks by unknown gunmen that officials said left at least 25 protesters dead and 130 wounded.
Security forces regularly use live rounds and tear gas to disperse the demonstrations, leading to heavy casualties.
Gunfire continued until the early hours of Saturday morning. The assailants first unleashed the deadly assault on Baghdad’s Khilani Square and Sinak Bridge, driving through the areas that are the epicentre of the popular uprising.
Early on Saturday, a drone dropped a bomb on his home in the shrine city of Najaf, damaging the exterior wall, sources within his party told AFP.
Mr Al Sadr is currently in Iran.
“This is a clear attack that could kindle a war – maybe a civil war – in Iraq. Self-restraint is essential,” Mr Al Sadr’s spokesman, Salah Al Obeidi, said.
Dozens of the cleric’s supporters flocked to his home after the attack to show support, waving Iraqi flags and his picture while chanting, “We are all your soldiers!”
Anti-government activists have sought to blame supporters of Iran-backed Iraqi militias, which have staged similar attacks against protester sit-ins in the capital and the country’s southern cities. Iraqi security forces were stationed on streets leading to the square by the early morning.
Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, the UN Secretary General’s special representative for Iraq, condemned the shooting of protesters on Friday night.
“The deliberate killing of unarmed protesters by armed elements is nothing less than an atrocity against the people of Iraq,” she said. “The perpetrators must be identified and brought to justice without delay.”
The UN envoy urged Iraqi Armed Forces to protect peaceful protesters from violence committed by armed elements operating outside state control.
In the first comment on the incident from a senior Iraqi official, President Barham Salih also called on authorities to “identify the criminals and bring them to justice”.
The escalation in violence comes as parliament tries to pick a prime minister to succeed Adel Abdul Mahdi, who submitted his resignation last Sunday.
Iraq’s top Shiite cleric said on Friday that a new prime minister must be chosen without foreign interference, in an apparent nod to Iran’s influence in the country.
Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani’s comments followed reports that a senior Iranian commander had been in Baghdad this week to rally support for a new government that would continue to serve Iran’s interests.
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