The kidnapping of a prominent activist by unknown gunmen sparked protests in Iraq’s southern city of Nasiriyah on Sunday.
One person who was with Sajjad al-Iraqi during his abduction was wounded.
Protesters took to the streets soon after news of the kidnapping broke out. Demonstrators blocked bridges crossing the Euphrates River and closed down the majority of official offices in an effort to pressure local authorities and the police to uncover the whereabouts of Iraqi.
Some protest activists accuse members of the tribe of slain deputy leader of the Popular Mobilization Forces, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, of being behind the abduction.
Al-Muhandis was killed in the American drone strike that eliminated top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani near Baghdad airport in January. Protesters in Nasiriyah had at the time prevented Muhandis’ funeral procession from passing through one of the city’s squares.
They believe that Iraqi’s abduction was in retaliation to their blocking of the procession. Police have not named any suspects in the kidnapping.
Chief of police, Hazem al-Waeli said the security forces are on complete alert to uncover the kidnappers.
Activist Abdulwahhab al-Hamdani said Iraqi was among the most prominent activists in Nasiriyah and is known for his fierce criticism of all Islamic parties.
He revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat that he had received several death threats, but that has not deterred his activism.
A hashtag calling for Iraqi’s release trended on social media in Iraq soon after news of his kidnapping broke out. Activists demanded his release and holding the perpetrators to account.
Separately, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi announced that he was seeking to set up monuments to honor the victims of the popular anti-government protests, which erupted in October 2019.
A monument will be erected at a square in each of the capital Baghdad and Nasiriyah and honor the victims who have struggled to establish a nation, he said.
“History is a memory. We should seek to immortalize our historic events so that they can turn into lessons and productive actions that would establish a new phase. Plight, pain and sacrifices must turn into sources of pride for generations to come,” he added.
Over 500 people have been killed and 25,000 wounded by security forces and unknown gunmen as they violently cracked down on the anti-government protesters, who had taken to the streets since October to condemn rampant corruption, poor living conditions and unemployment in Iraq.